Ford government to spend $10M to launch search for remains at Indigenous residential school sites
Published Tuesday, June 15, 2021 7:49AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 15, 2021 12:05PM EDT
The Ford government will offer $10 million to survey the grounds of 18 Indian residential schools that were active in Ontario and preserve and commemorate any remains that are found.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the money will be paid over three years, as part of an “Indigenous-led” effort to “to identify, investigate, protect and commemorate Indian residential school burial sites.”
Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford said that Truth and Reconciliation Commission testimony tells them of at least 12 burial sites located across the province, with “varying levels of certainty and detail” available.
The last residential school in Ontario closed in 1991.
“We know there’s likely more to this story,” Rickford said. “We know that this is reopening wounds, some that haven’t ever healed, quite frankly.”
Calls have grown throughout the nation after the remains of 215 children were found in an unmarked burial site on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia last month.
Anishanaabe Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh said the deaths of children at the schools was an open secret among survivors.
“Survivors have told us first hand of children being buried in secret, and even cremated,” he said.
“This requires people to admit uncomfortable truths and the burial of children in unmarked graves is a crime against humanity. I would deem the perpetrators as less human than us.”
He said that while he did not attend residential school, five of his older siblings did.
He recalled a time when one of his older sisters spoke toafederal official about her ordeal in one of the schools.
“I do not know what they were saying, I have never been brave enough to ask, but both of them were sobbing.”
Rickford said the effort to locate remains will be led by members of each Indigenous community where a school was located, with care to protect people from reliving earlier trauma.
The Ford government began its tenure with several decisions that upset First Nations in Ontario.
It cut funding for Indigenous Affairs in its first budget and refused to go ahead with a revamp of public school curriculum which made classes about the Canadian Indigenous experience mandatory for all students.
They also merged ministerial responsibility for Indigenous Affairs, making Rickford also responsible for energy, mines and northern development.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said his party supported the effort, but wanted Indigenous Affairs to be a standalone ministry again.
“Ontario Liberals support the funding to identify and commemorate Residential School burial sites, and we are urging the government to reinstate the Indigenous curriculum changes they cancelled in 2018,” Del Duca said Tuesday. “We are also calling for a standalone Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation to be appointed to oversee the initiative. The findings of the investigation and the history of Indigenous Peoples must be taught to future generations so that history is never allowed to repeat itself.”