Local leaders react to news of potential graves

Earlier this week, the Kaatagoging Survivor’s group of the St. Mary’s Indian Residential School near Kenora announced its preliminary findings of 171 anomalies suggesting potential grave sites at the school site. Treaty #3 people from all cultural backgrounds have been processing the news, and thoughts are with the surviving families, and the children who never made it home from residential schools. Local leaders have reacted to the news, providing the following expressions of grief and condolence:

“I am absolutely heartbroken at the announcement of 171 potential grave sites at St. Mary’s Indian Residential School,” said Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh. “Today, the entirety of the Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty #3 mourns with Wauzhushk Onigum, the survivors, and intergenerational survivors of St. Mary’s Indian Residential School.”

Chief Chris Skead and Wauzhushk Onigum Nation have been working on an investigation of the former St. Mary’s school site since May 2022. The Treaty #3 territory is the location of five former residential schools covering six sites. St. Mary’s operated from 1897 to 1972 and was attended by children from across the Treaty #3 territory and beyond.

“With this announcement today, the first of its kind in Treaty #3, I ask that we all take a moment to reach out and connect with each other so that none of us are alone when hearing this devastating news.”

The leadership and the staff of Grand Council Treaty #3 consider this to be some of the most difficult work they have undertaken and will continue stand alongside Wauzhushk Onigum on the path to truth and healing.

Francis Kavanaugh

“The news from Wauzhushk Onigum Nation is heartbreaking. Today’s discovery, the result of an eight-month investigation, is a tragic first for Ontario.

As the Member of Provincial Parliament for Kenora Rainy-River and the Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs, I join with the Wauzhushk Onigum Nation and all Treaty 3 partners to mourn today’s sad news.

As soon as the findings were released, I communicated with Chief Skead to offer Ontario’s full support. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the community during this difficult time and will continue working with partners to assist with the next phase of this work.

As we continue to uncover the truth of our collective past on the journey toward reconciliation, we will continue to support these investigations and will support healing for Survivors, their families and community members suffering from mental health and addictions due to intergenerational trauma and harms inflicted by the Indian Residential School system.”

MPP Greg Rickford

“Our nations are hurting. Outrage has quickly turned to pain, and we are deeply saddened remembering the children that lost their lives due to past injustices by governments,” said MPP Mamakwa. “For generations, our people have been victimized, and findings like this reopen old wounds.   The discovery of these 171 potential burials is further proof that the governments must continue working with First Nations to find all our children and ensure justice, dignity, and equity in our nations. When the lives of children are cut short, apologies are no longer sufficient; we need action.”

“It is common knowledge that the death of our ancestors is a crime against humanity, but Canada and Ontario refuse to treat these acts as such. Canada and its governments and institutions must take accountability and own up to past actions. Indigenous people across the country continue to overcome the genocides of past governments into the present. In northern Ontario alone, there are 16 Indian Residential School sites. We know this discovery is just the beginning. It is crucial that all levels of government continue to offer full support to the First Nations-led process of investigation, repatriation, and healing initiatives.”

MPP Sol Mamakwa

Find support

Support services are available for those affected by this news:

Culturally relevant mental health support services for members of the Indigenous community are accessible toll-free at 1-855-242-3310 or online at HopeForWellness.ca.

You can also contact the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-866-925-4419.