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Plans underway for residential school monument in Yellowknife

From left to right, Mayor Rebecca Alty, Chief Ernest Betsina, and Chief Edward Sangris sign an updated memorandum of understanding between the two governments. Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

In 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made 94 calls to action to redress the legacy of residential schools. Number 82 on the list deals with publicly accessible and highly visible residential school monuments in each provincial and territorial capital. 

The city of Yellowknife and the Yellowknife Dene First Nation (YKDFN) have set the wheels in motion to respond to that call. As the monument remains in its preliminary stages, details of what, where, and when remain unknown.  

The City of Yellowknife and Yellowknife Dene First Nation are collaborating on a monument to redress the legacy of residential schools. 
NNSL file photo.

Ernest Betsina, chief of Ndilo, says the monument would honour “friends and family that have passed on, as well as those that survived and are still dealing with the impacts of residential schools.”

“It’s important that this legacy get recognized and for us to have a monument where people can gather and remember,” he says. 

While it can’t yet be confirmed, Betsina says for the monument’s location, they are considering the old site of Akaitcho Hall – a residential school that closed its doors in 1994, and later became a dormitory for Sir John Franklin high school students from out of town. 

In a letter responding to the proposal in April, Premier Caroline Cochrane expressed shared interest “in moving forward with a monument” and suggested a working group be formed between the governments. 

City Councillor and Yellowknife Heritage Committee Chair Julian Morse says they are awaiting a meeting with the GNWT to discuss next steps. He says that YKDFN is leading the project and that the committee will play a role in supporting the project if asked by YKDFN. 

A timeline on the monument remains to be seen, though Betsina says they will “to keep an eye out” for more information. With colder weather looming he suspects the monument will be delayed until at least the spring.  

In a letter of support for YKDFN, Mayor Rebecca Alty says the project reflects the city’s commitment to reconciliation.

“We are in a unique position to facilitate awareness of the history and legacy of residential schools,” she says, “among both non-indigenous residents as well as the vast number of visitors from around the globe.”