When Anthony Dreaver Johnston first learned that he might have relatives buried in the Regina Indian Industrial School (RIIS) cemetery, the 60-year-old visited the graves of his deceased parents and grandparents on the Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan where he lives. He told them that he was going to visit ancestors, a four-hour drive south to Regina.
Dreaver Johnston had seen a document, produced by a group of cemetery researchers, which listed the names of children who might be interred at the site. (He now sits on the board of the RIIS Commemorative Association, the group that supplied the list.) Among them was a girl from Mistawasis with the last name Dreaver. Although her first name is unknown, Dreaver Johnston believes she was his maternal great-aunt, Catherine.
Catherine Dreaver arrived at the school in 1899 along with three of her brothers, one of whom was Dreaver Johnston’s grandfather. He recalls hearing a family story about his great-aunt.
Anthony Dreaver Johnston
“The brothers returned home from school one year and their parents
asked, ‘Where is your sister?’ They said they did not know and thought
she had returned home before them. Their father likely spoke with the
community’s government official or Presbyterian minister who contacted
the school. The response was simply, ‘She died a couple months ago.’”
Johnston believes his paternal great-uncle, James Johnston, is also
buried in the cemetery. James arrived at RIIS in 1893 when he was 10
years old. Not much else is known about him, except that he never
returned home and died sometime before the end of 1897.
unlikely that his deceased body was transported home to Mistawasis First
Nation, because the reserve is more than 400 kilometres away — a long
distance to travel in a horse-drawn carriage.
grieves for his relatives who didn’t make it home, Dreaver Johnston is
also grateful for the opportunity to honour their memory.
at the Mistawasis cemetery, he filled a small jar with dirt and later
scattered it on the RIIS cemetery. He has also gathered dirt from the
RIIS cemetery and plans to scatter it on the Mistawasis cemetery.
“What I am doing,” says Dreaver Johnston, “is simply my personal ceremonies to connect my ancestors to home.”
Johnston has also been gathering pebbles from Mistawasis and plans to
build tiny stone markers at the RIIS cemetery for his great-aunt and
“I now have another place to visit and remember
ancestors,” he says. “I now know their names. I know my grandparents are
smiling, knowing that I visit the resting place of their sister and
Sign up for our free e-newsletter now!
Get The Observer’s latest stories on justice, faith and ethics by signing up for our e-newsletter. It only takes a few seconds to join and we’ll deliver award-winning content to your in-box.
SIGN UP TODAY