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Chief says First Nation in northeastern Manitoba ‘eagerly awaiting’ monument to 1972 tragedy

The chief of a First Nation in northeastern Manitoba says his community is hopeful a project to commemorate nine people — eight of them residential school students — who were killed in a plane crash 52 years ago will go ahead as planned.

On June 24, 1972, a plane taking the students home to Bunibonibee Cree Nation for the summer, from residential schools in Portage la Prairie and Stonewall, crashed in a vacant lot on Linwood Street in Winnipeg, with no survivors.

Richard Hart, chief of Bunibonibee — which was then known as Oxford House — told 680 CJOB’s The News on Thursday that it was a happy day in the community, as the mostly teenage students were going to be reunited with family.

“The school year was done, and we had a number of our young people who had gone off to residential school returning home that day,” Hart said.

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“Everybody was eager. It was a beautiful day. Kids were coming home. Their families hadn’t seen their loved ones for 10 months…. Such a wonderful day ended so tragically.”

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The First Nation, in partnership with the Royal Canadian Aviation Museum and the city, has been working on a memorial for the crash victims to be located at Linwood and Silver Avenue, near the crash site, on the Yellow Ribbon Greenway Trail.

The plan is for a pedestal monument with the names of the victims, as well as a small park area.

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Hart said a similar monument was erected in Portage la Prairie, at the site of one of the residential schools the students attended, and that the community itself commemorates the incident every year, as difficult as it may be for those left behind.

“We struggle with it ourselves, with our commemorations every year,” he said.

“A lot of family members want to put it in the past, because it brings up too painful of memories. But at the same time, the families that are directly related to the victims of this tragedy have welcomed commemoration.”

Hart said Bunibonibee is home to numerous relatives of the victims, including the mother of one of the teens, who is still active in the community, well into her 90s.

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The monument, he said, would serve as a way to remind Winnipeggers of a tragic event in their own backyards that may have been forgotten — or even completely unknown to younger generations — and to help educate Manitobans about another aspect of the residential school system, as part of ongoing efforts toward reconciliation.

“We’ve been eagerly waiting for the grand unveiling of the park and the monument,” he said.

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