Search for lost children continues
Christian Quequish - Special to Wawatay News
The remains of two brothers found near the Pelican Falls First Nation High School (PFFNHS) have sparked the need for a preliminary search of the area around the school.
The brother's remains were identified as Charles and Thomas Oombash by traditional medicine man and spiritual leader Allan Oombash.
The two boys ran away from residential school in the 1950s.
The boys’ remains were taken home to Cat Lake by the Oombash family for burial ceremonies.
Besides the brothers’ remains, a number of animal bones were also discovered near PFFNHS.
The dig site across the bay from the school yielded animal remains, as determined by Dr. Katherine Gruspier of the Ontario forensic pathology service.
The findings of the boy's remains unearthed the need to bring closure for many families who still wonder what became of their relatives.
School starts for current PFFNHS students Aug. 28, and Chief Clifford Bull of Lac Seul First Nation said there is a need to search the area before school starts as well as strike up a committee to specifically deal with the lingering effects of residential school.
A preliminary search of the area is planned for August, with a much more widespread search next spring.
“The issue’s not over, and I think for us it’s more of an issue now than ever before,” said Bull.
Bull is suggesting there is a need for an extensive search of the area surrounding Pelican Falls, using advanced technology.
“We’re primarily focusing on areas where remains could be found, using the latest technology,” said Bull.
Russell Wesley was part of a group of traditional hunter-gatherers from Cat Lake First Nation that spent much of June searching for the Oombash boys’ remains.
With the help of the Frenchman’s Head 3rd Canadian Ranger patrol group, they were able to find several sites of interest.
“The Oombash family is looking at a class-action lawsuit against the church and Canada,” said Wesley. “But there are still students missing besides the two Oombash boys.”
Wesley is a nephew to the two Oombash boys, as well as a residential school survivor.
“Essentially two whole family trees have been wiped out, and nobody is doing anything about it,” said Wesley. “The sad part is there are thirteen other confirmed missing children that attended Pelican Falls Residential School.”
Wesley said he feels bothered by the fact that there does not seem to be any accountability for what went on during the residential school, in terms of missing children.
“As long as I’m healthy, I don’t think I’m going to stop searching,” said Wesley.
He said he does not think the greater community understands the devastating effects of residential school, nor does it wish to.
“It seriously affects students, even to this day,” said Wesley.
Ajay Jack, master corporal for the Frenchman’s Head ranger division was part of the initial search with the Cat Lake hunters.
“We came to this place here, it was kind of a rural area at the time because a lot of people were working on the railroad for Pelican,” said Jack at an old sulfur mine railway site.
“We scoured the area around here and started finding old remnants of bones,” Jack added.
He said the Cat Lake searchers dug up some bricks, pots and pans, essentially finding tangible evidence that there was activity in the area.
Dr. Michael Wilson, the regional supervising coroner for Thunder Bay was asked by representatives of Nishnawbe Aski Nation to come examine the sites.
“This is a very preliminary site visit,” said Wilson. “And the coroner’s office’s involvement will depend on whether or not further human remains are found.”
Meanwhile, the effects of residential school continue to linger around the school site in many ways – Norma Kejick, executive director of Northern Nishnawbe Education Council (NNEC) said that there has been “paranormal activity around this area for years.”
Kejick went on to explain that several NNEC staff members have transferred after being at PFFNHS, including her son, who was only able to stay for one year – due to paranormal activity.
“We have one employee who’s been around for 27 years, they started working in the student houses, and that’s why she transferred to a different department,” said Kejick. “She thought she was going crazy.”
Despite plans for searching for human remains in the area, rumours of paranormal activity and lingering effects of residential school, Kejick said that the school year will continue as normal.
Editor's note: This story originally reported that Dr. Katherine Gruspier of the Ontario forensic pathology service determined that human remains were found at the dig site across the bay from Pelican Falls First Nations High School. That is incorrect. Dr. Gruspier actually determined that the bones found across the bay from the school were animal remains. Wawatay News apologizes for the mistake.
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