05/12/2014 10:27 EDT | Updated 07/12/2014 05:59 EDT

City of Regina responding to Indian school cemetery concerns

The City of Regina is responding to the the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after he raised concerns about the future of the Regina Indian Industrial School Cemetery — and it's suggesting he should get more involved.

Last month, Justice Murray Sinclair had asked the city to "do the right thing" as it decides what to do about the abandoned cemetery on the west edge of the city.

"We would expect that in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, the City of Regina and the Province of Saskatchewan would want to ensure that these cemeteries and children are appropriately remembered," Sinclair said in a letter.

At least 22 graves

In 2012, an engineering firm surveyed the 680-square-metre area and found there was a minimum of 22 grave sites and possibly 40.

Buried in the cemetery are the bodies of children from First Nations and Métis communities, as well as the children of the school's first principal.

An administration report recommended setting standards to keep the cemetery area neat and tidy, including making sure the grass got cut.

However, city staff said in April they would not recommend making the site a municipal heritage property or applying to have it made a provincial heritage property.

School closed in 1910

The April report also cautioned against the city taking the lead in commemorating the cemetery, saying that would be best left to those who were affected by the Regina Indian Industrial School, which operated between 1891 and 1910.

Instead of making any decisions last month, the city's municipal heritage committee voted to wait another five months. If  decisions are made at the Sept. 8 meeting, the recommendations would then go to city council.

Bigger role for TRC?

In the meantime, a city official has written back to Sinclair to suggest that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself could play a larger role commemorating the site.

"We feel it is essential that the appropriate individuals, groups and organizations, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, lead the commemorative process," said the letter from Jason Carlston, the city's executive director of community planning and development.

Carlston's letter also said that having the site designated a heritage site is not the same thing as commemoration.

Heritage designation would only ensure that controls are in place on maintenance and heritage conservation or development on the site, the letter said.

The response to Sinclair is on the agenda of today's Municipal Heritage Committee meeting at City Hall.