Ontario pledges $10M to identify and commemorate burial sites at former residential schools
TORONTO -- The Ontario government has unveiled a $10 million action plan to identify and commemorate unmarked burial sites at former residential schools across the province.
Over the next three years, the government says it will work with Indigenous leaders to develop a process for identifying these sites, of which there are believed to be at least 12.
The announcement follows a discovery last month of the remains of 215 children buried in unmarked graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
Speaking remotely at the news conference in Kenora Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford called that discovery “heartbreaking.”
“We know the news from Kamloops has deeply impacted survivors and their families and that Indigenous people are hurting, including here in Ontario,” Ford said.
“We’re here to support them. Indigenous leaders and Ontarians are seeking meaningful reconciliation.”
Archaeologists and forensic specialists, including Dr. Dirk Huyer Chief Coroner for Ontario, as well as historians, will lead the research and technical field work related to the identification process
Also included in the funding are mental health supports for survivors of Ontario’s residential school system, their families and Indigenous communities.
Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh of the Ogichidaa Grand Council Treaty 3 was in attendance for Tuesday’s announcement. He said that although he did not attend a residential school, his siblings did and that it pains him to relive their experiences.
“Survivors told us firsthand of children being buried secretly off school grounds,” Kavanaugh said. “We cannot suffer in silence any longer and it is important that we work through this together.”
Last week, Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford told CTV News Toronto that at least 426 Indigenous children are known to have died at schools in Ontario, while an unknown number are still missing.
Tuesday’s announcement aims to respond to a recommendation included in a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released in 2015 which called for implementation strategies for the “ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried.”
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has done important work to bring the truth to light, but we have more work to do,” Rickford said from Kenora Tuesday.
“We know that this will reopen wounds, some that have never healed, frankly, and bring painful memories to the surface. That’s why it’s critical that any search and recovery efforts are community led by Indigenous people and supported with respect for community protocols and the diversity of cultural practices across Ontario.”
It is believed that roughly 8,000 of Canada’s estimated 80,000 Indian Residential School Survivors lived in Ontario at the time of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, according to data presented by the provincial government. There were 18 Indian Residential Schools in Ontario, the last of which closed in 1991.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, over 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities and sent to Indian Residential Schools between 1870 and 1996.