We spoke with Professor Yellowhorn about his research.
Can you tell us about some of the challenges associated with taking on a project of this nature? How have the researchers overcome these challenges?
I can only speak for myself when I say the nature of this research can be emotionally taxing. Although we can rely on our scientific objectivity to partially shield us, we cannot unplug our humanity. We are people with our own family connections. When I first started looking for abandoned cemeteries, I gained a greater appreciation of my relatives and friends. I can make a general observation that our team finds solace in knowing our research will give answers to people who have been waiting a long time to find out why children died at this school.
Have you been able to identify many of the children and their associated communities?
Based on the initial surveys that Nichols conducted using various geophysical methods, we were confident that 104 was an accurate count of burials in this cemetery. Despite the great strain the COVID-19 pandemic put on our project objectives, we are positive that we have reclaimed the identities of 99 of the children buried there. We are now able to reach out to the communities where children have family ties. Moreover, the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation has hosted several delegations from northern Manitoba to discuss next steps for their relatives buried here.
Has the community decided on any plans for the future of the site?
There are several options ranging from commemoration of the place to repatriation. Families affected by this research and representatives from the home communities of these children will contribute to determining the next steps. In the meantime, we will continue to scour archival records and conduct oral history interviews until we have reclaimed the identities of the last group of unknown children.