Long lost brothers finally found
Linda Henry/Special to Wawatay News
Brothers Charlie and Thomas Oombash left Cat Lake First Nation in 1956 to attend Pelican Lake Indian Residential School. They never returned to the community.
The Oombash family has been wondering what became of them ever since.
That is what prompted the family and community to begin a search of the former school grounds in early June 2012.
The family wrote letters to Northern Nishnawbe Education Council, Canadian National Railroad, Ontario Provincial Police and others who would be affected by the search.
Searchers arrived at the former school grounds and were given houses to reside in while they searched for remains of their loved ones.
A spiritual leader and descendent of the missing brothers, Allan Oombash, was among them.
Early in the search the party found eleven bones. The bones have been sent back to Cat Lake First Nation.
The Ontario Provincial Police had asked for the bones, but the family refused to give them up.
“Why are you now wanting to know how, when and why these children died, when something should have been done back in 1956?” the family said to police.
For weeks after the first discovery, the searchers could not find any more fragments or remains.
Oombash went further afield to consult another Elder and healer, John Lathlin of Winnipeg, Man. Lathlin told them, through ceremony, to continue the search and that they would find remains in a massive grave.
Another Elder, Phyllis Mendowagon, also informed the searchers that the Earth has four layers and they would find the remains on the first layer.
Canadian Rangers from the nearby community of Lac Seul First Nation had been deployed to join the search. Most quickly gave up, as some had other obligations, and some were spooked by what sounded like children at play in the woods.
Late one evening towards the end of the search, Allan Oombash said he and two young teenagers were out on a walk. As they were nearing the CN tracks, Oombash said “we heard what sounded like a yell, it became loud and louder. This, of course, scared the teenagers and they wanted to return right away back to the houses. I asked them to stay for awhile and not to be afraid.”
“The very next morning, I told the party to begin looking in the direction of where we heard the yelling,” Oombash continued. “Sure enough we found what was an enclosure or remains of a fence, badly burnt.”
On June 22, many bones were found near the remains of the burnt fence. The bones were gently placed in plastic bags.
Stanley Oombash, brother to Charlie and Thomas, said the search was difficult for the family.
“It is very hard to see all those little bones,” Oombash said. “We found them about a foot from the top earth.”
One other person, Mervin Ningewance, who saw the remains said, “It appeared that the children’s remains were incinerated, but we don’t know for sure.”
All the bones found were brought back to the houses and a ceremony was conducted, again by Lathlin, for identification. Late into the night of June 22, Lathlin conducted his ceremony and through spirituality determined that the remains of the late Charlie and Thomas Oombash had been found.
Both were taken back to Cat Lake for burial within their home community.
No one knows how the boys died. And no one knows how many more such stories exist in other residential schools.
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