Ceremony held at Edmonton's former Charles Camsell hospital site as search for Indigenous graves continues

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For 50 days, Lorelei Mullings and Andrea Jenkins have sat outside the former Charles Camsell Indian Hospital.

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The pair have been raising awareness for Every Child Matters and children who attended residential schools, after Mullings called Jenkins upset after news came out 751 unmarked graves at a Saskatchewan residential school were uncovered.

“Both of us were a bit emotional. My mother, my grandmother, other family members as well were from residential school,” Jenkins said. “Then Lorelei has her family members as well.”

They wanted to do something about it, and created a space to raise awareness of residential schools. They first thought it would last for seven days and end on Canada Day, but it extended to 50 days from 7 p.m. to as late as 1:30 a.m.

“We wanted to bring awareness,” Mullings said. “We wanted people to hear what has been done wrong to our people at the Indian hospital, because people thought it was a good thing.”

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According to Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, members were sent to the former hospital for medical treatment but were “instead experimented on, sterilized, tortured, murdered and buried in unmarked graves.”

On Aug. 5 and 6, part of the site was dug up after 11 anomalies were found with ground-penetrating radar earlier this summer. However, only debris, concrete, wire and roots were uncovered.

Chief Calvin Bruneau of the Papachase First Nation told Postmedia it is believed the Indigenous people who died at the hospital are buried in the southeast corner of the lot.

The search of the site was prompted after the remains of 215 children buried at the Kamloops Residential School were identified in May.

Burneau hopes the area will be scanned and expects digs will resume in September.

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Laura Morin, second from the right, talks about being born at the former Charles Camsell Indian Hospital and the medical treatment she received, including the birth of three children, at later versions of the hospital (visible in the background), during a protest on the grounds of the former Charles Camsell Indian Hospital, in Edmonton Monday Aug. 9, 2021.
Laura Morin, second from the right, talks about being born at the former Charles Camsell Indian Hospital and the medical treatment she received, including the birth of three children, at later versions of the hospital (visible in the background), during a protest on the grounds of the former Charles Camsell Indian Hospital, in Edmonton Monday Aug. 9, 2021. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Over the 50 days, the pair have been joined by others who have wanted to help raise awareness or wanted to learn more. They’ve had drummers, singers and residential school survivors, with many sharing their stories and experiences, including at the Camsell site.

“One of them being a lady I know from up north,” she said. “She was telling me about her mother, her grandmother and her mother’s three-year-old brother who was here. He got killed falling down the stairs. He broke his neck.”

On Thursday, a ceremony was held on the west side of the hospital site to honour and conclude their time raising awareness. On a fence erected around the site, which is under construction to become an apartment complex, hung signs that read “every child matters” and “we are still here, seeds have been planted.” Teddy bears were also placed along the fence.

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Men and women — some of whom were residential school survivors — along with children gathered for the ceremony that began with smudging smudging, where each individual attending could cleanse with smoke. Then men and women gathered separately to share and smoke a pipe. The ceremony was concluded by a feast, that included bannock, stew, fruit and tea, that was blessed by an elder.

While their time at the former hospital has concluded, Mullings and Jenkins say they are taking a week-long break but will continue to raise awareness at yet-to-be-announced new site.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line for survivors is open 24-hours for emotional and crisis referral services 1-866-925-4419.

— With files from Lauren Boothby

ajunker@postmedia.com

twitter.com/junkeranna

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