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A pile of painted rocks stacked just inside the tall gates that separate the grounds of the former Qu'Appelle Industrial School and a railway line in the fall of 2021. The former school site sits on the western-most edge of the townsite. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: Letitia John died at a residential school. Her identity was lost until now

September 29, 2023 — 

When the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) unveiled its student memorial register in 2019 of children who died in residential schools, those behind it acknowledged it was far from complete.

Among the 2,800 names on the register at the time, at least one raised eyebrows. One entry was not even truly a name: “Indian girl 237.”

After combing through hundreds of annual reports, correspondence and death certificates from residential schools and records supplied by White Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan, we now know her name was Letitia John. 

Lorena Fontaine, Indigenous Academic Lead at the University of Manitoba and a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, said it was government policy enforced by the priests, nuns and teachers at residential schools to remove children’s names. 

That policy, she said, caused confusion then and now about the identities of children like Letitia. 

“When children died in the schools without their original name, it’s hard to find out what happened to those children,” she said. 

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