With Sept. 30 behind us, process toward healing needs to 'keep going,' says Six Nations elected chief

The healing process has not ended now that Canada has marked its first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and the dialogue needs to continue, elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River, Mark Hill says.

‘It’s far more important to continue the conversation,’ elected Chief Mark Hill says

Mark Hill is the chief of Six Nations of the Grand River. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains details readers might find distressing

The healing process has not ended now that Canada has marked its first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and the dialogue needs to continue, elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River, Mark Hill, says.

Thursday, communities across the country honoured Indigenous survivors and children who were victims of the residential school system.

Hill said the focus should now turn to the implementation of more of the calls to action laid out ​in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)'s report into the history and legacy of Canada's residential school system.

Creating a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was one of the 94 calls to action by the TRC back in 2015.

"This conversation, this discussion, they still need to keep going, and I think that's where the education and the awareness of the issue in its entirety [will occur]," Hill told CBC Hamilton. 

"You know, it's far more important to continue the conversation as we continue to go on this healing path together."

Six Nations elected Chief Mark Hill and survivors of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School want the grounds search for unmarked graves to be a criminal investigation. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The new statutory holiday was announced by the federal government in June. Canadians were asked to reflect on Canada's history of mistreatment of Indigenous people and the lasting intergenerational trauma of the church-run institutions where children were torn from their families and abused.

Hill said a search of the grounds at the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., will start in October, and he is hopeful the provincial government will provide funding to assist it.

"We've received funding from Canada to do that work but mind you, again, it's always never enough," Hill said. 

"With the provincial government, we're still in conversation there. It would be nice to see some funding come from the province to do some of this work as well."

Around 500 acres to be searched

Hill said around 500 acres need to be searched.

He said the survivors secretariat, which is survivor-led, trauma-informed and community-driven, meets weekly as they prepare to begin the search. 

Meetings are also being held with the multi-jurisdiction police task force, Hill said.

"It's about accountability, it's about justice. We're going to continue to bring all of our children home," he said.

The residential school operated between 1831 and 1970. During those decades, an estimated 15,000 students were required to pass through its doors before it was officially shut down.

Some sections of the property have been searched in the past, though no human remains have been uncovered.

Residential school.
A drone shot of the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ont. It is the former Mohawk Institute Residential School. (Sue Reid/CBC)

Looking at steps to move reconciliation forwards, Alison Macdonald, a band member of the Six Nations of the Grand River — Upper Mohawk, wolf clan — believes provincial recognition of Sept. 30 as a statutory holiday would serve as "an excellent start."

"I am speechless with the government of Ontario's utter failure and disregard for this to be declared a statutory holiday or, at a minimum, a day of remembrance for all people residing in Canada or who consider Canada as their home," Macdonald said by email earlier this week. 

Macdonald, who ran as the Liberal candidate for Brantford-Brant in the recent federal election, said another pressing need, for Six Nations specifically, is the funding and construction of an adequate school for the immersion program offered at Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo elementary and secondary school. 

"They have the plans ready to go, they need the help of the federal government to do so," she said.

She is hopeful that the Trudeau government will implement all of its planned commitments, including appointing a special interlocutor to work with indigenous communities on how to address the legacy of residential schools, the impact of these traumas, and investing in real solutions guided by and coordinated with Indigenous people directly. 

"I know that there are so many wonderful intentions but these have to be met by serious people wanting to implement realistic goals," Macdonald said. 

Meanwhile, Hill said Thursday's events marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation were impacted by COVID-19.

He said they were forced to switch to "a hybrid model" where some people attended the events in person while others watched online from their homes.

There were 27 active cases of COVID-19 in Six Nations on Thursday with one person hospitalized. A total of 13 deaths have been linked to the virus over the course of the pandemic.

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.


Desmond Brown

Web Writer / Editor

Desmond joined CBC News in October 2017. He previously worked with The Associated Press, Caribbean Media Corporation and Inter Press Service. You can reach him at: desmond.brown@cbc.ca.

With files from Samantha Craggs and Dan Taekema