During efforts to continue research in Portage la Prairie to locate unmarked graves of Indigenous children who attended the former residential school at Keeshkeemaquah Village, a discovery was realized. A second, older residential school existed in the city.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches explains.
"Last year we began scanning the Keeshkeemaquah reserve," says Meeches. "I think we did about around four acres, and that came with a fairly hefty price tag. I think we spent over $50,000 this year. We are doing a little bit more scanning. There are a few lots that need to be scanned. We did make a proposal to Indigenous Services Canada to assist with that, so we should be receiving word fairly soon on that. But one thing that came to light in all of this was the Portage Indian Residential School -- the first school -- is actually located someplace here in the city of Portage la Prairie, and our land management staff have information on it."
He notes this is now part of the proposal that they submitted, requiring further research.
"I think that other school lasted for quite a few years," continues Meeches. "So, that would need to be checked out. I'm just not exactly sure when it operated. But we do have that info."
Meeches says they have a general idea of where the location where the other school was.
"There are some old city maps that show the location. I'm fairly certain that land management has all this information and it was submitted in the most recent proposal a few weeks ago."
He notes he was surprised to hear about this.
"More research needs to be done in that area, and then we need to take a look at it, for sure," adds Meeches. "Hopefully, the historical records will help with that and we'll see where it goes."
Meeches says he's confident the funding will come in so they can continue this research, and adds there's a lot of land at Keeshkeemaquah with plenty of history.
"We definitely have to take a look and do more scanning and, again, last year we did our first four acres but I think there's quite a bit, " notes Meeches. "We have 94 acres and 45 in another spot. We're working towards getting all of those scanned, and it will hopefully provide some peace of mind for all of us."
He explains the process uses ground penetration radar. People walk the area when they're scanning and make a grid.
"It penetrates the ground and just, basically, they can see if there's any anomaly underneath," says Meeches. "I know that last year when they did the ground scan, they thought they may have discovered something. But after further investigation, it was just an anomaly."
Portage la Prairie Heritage Advisory Committee chair James Kostuchuk came across the existence of the school while doing research for the historical photo book that was recently published. He notes the school operated from 1886 until 1915.
For Residential School Survivors in need of support, the Residential School crisis line is 1-866-925-4419.