The Ontario government is providing $10 million to help support the identification, investigation, protection and commemoration of Indian Residential School burial sites across the province. The funding will also ensure that culturally appropriate, trauma-informed mental health supports are available for Indian Residential School survivors, their families and Indigenous communities.
“Like all Ontarians, I was heartbroken by the news of a burial site containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia,” said Premier Doug Ford.
“That is why our government is partnering with Indigenous communities to address the loss of generations who are no longer with us, and the continued loss experienced by residential school survivors and their families. As we advance meaningful reconciliation, it is important that all of us continue to deepen our collective understanding of the legacy of the Indian Residential School system.”
Across Canada, over 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities and sent to Indian Residential Schools between 1870 and 1996. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, there were 18 Indian Residential Schools in Ontario; the last of these closed in 1991, with some sites since repurposed, abandoned or destroyed.
“We know that the tragic findings at a former Indian Residential School site in British Columbia are sadly not an anomaly,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs.
“Indigenous leaders and Ontarians are looking to governments to commit to the work of investigating Indigenous Residential School burial sites on a priority basis and our government is taking action to support this process through to completion.”
Indigenous leaders from across the province also remarked on the government’s announcement. Grand Council Treaty #3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh said that the discovery in Kamloops has had a major impact on Indigenous people living in Treaty #3.
“The news of the 215 children found in Kamloops has affected our people in deeply emotional, spiritual, and physical ways,” Kavanaugh said.
“Our survivors and their families in Treaty #3 have long known that not everyone came home from residential school. The reminder that many have yet to be found has impacted our Nation in ways I cannot express. Over the past several weeks many people have told me of their experiences of seeing children disappear and have asked that we begin searching for them. Today’s announcement is a step towards bringing our children home.”
Meanwhile Alvin Fiddler, former Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation and a current candidate for National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations said the Nations of Canada must be the leaders in the process of discovering the truths of missing children.
“We require access to funding, technical expertise, mental health supports and justice,” Fiddler said.
“We want to find our children and bring them home. If a family or community suspects where their lost loved ones are, they should have access to whatever is required to find them – with the appropriate Indigenous health supports in place and meaningful justice sector responses. Ontario is taking important steps to make this happen.”
Margaret Froh, the president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, extended her thanks to Minister Rickford and the provincial government for committing to funding these projects so quickly following the initial discovery.
“We cannot have true reconciliation in this province without closure for the victims of these institutions, their families and their communities,” Froh said.
“Many in the Métis community attended residential and day school institutions, creating pain that rests with us to this day. This funding will help our communities address the intentional harms of those institutions and their legacy, and more importantly, help our communities move towards true closure.”
Ontario is working in collaboration with Indigenous leaders to establish processes that will guide the work related to Indian Residential School site identification, investigation, protection and commemoration. Initial site identification will be the first step in a much more extensive process, pending the wishes of the affected families and communities.
The province will identify technical experts, including archaeologists, forensic specialists and historians, available to lead the related research, analysis and technical field work required and ensure it is conducted to the highest standard. Indigenous communities will have the option to work in conjunction with Ontario specialists, such as those provided by the province’s Centre of Forensic Sciences and the Office of the Chief Coroner/Ontario Forensic Pathology Service.
As Ontario continues to advance meaningful reconciliation, the province will also work with Indigenous partners to explore opportunities to deepen Ontarians’ collective awareness and understanding of the legacy of the Indian Residential School system.