Feds providing $4.88M for Sask. First Nations to search for unmarked gravesites at residential schools
FSIN Second Vice-Chief David Pratt says several First Nations ready to start searching
WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
The federal government has announced it will provide the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) with $4.88 million to help search for unmarked gravesites at former residential school sites in Saskatchewan.
The money — which is coming from $27.1 million set aside for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's (TRC) Calls to Action 74 to 76 — will help First Nations find information and experts needed for ground penetrating radar work, carry out protocols and ceremonies related to the burial sites, and help with healing efforts.
The announcement was made on Tuesday morning at the Muskowekwan First Nation, where the last fully intact residential school building in Saskatchewan stands.
"We'll be working closely with each of our member nations that have had sites on their territory and working with them on how they want to proceed moving forward, along with their elders and their survivors giving us direction as we move forward together on this," said FSIN Second Vice-Chief David Pratt.
"We believe that this work is so vital [and] important because it's going to bring a lot of healing to our people who have suffered in those schools."
Pratt said several First Nations in the province are already prepared to start searching.
He said the FSIN may reach out to the federal government for further funding if needed.
"It's a start," he said.
"There's obviously a lot more that needs to take place for us to deal with all of the trauma from the residential school system."
'There's a lot of hurt in our communities'
Fishing Lake First Nation Chief Derek Sunshine said the ongoing news and discussions about residential schools have reunited many survivors, but are also a reminder about how important it is to take action.
"There's a lot of hurt in our communities. We say we're alright, but we know it's still inside us, inside our hearts," he said.
"Our nation, our people, will get a lot stronger as we stand together… Our people deserve a lot better than where we are today in society."
Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett noted during the announcement that the TRC estimated 566 kids died in residential schools, but acknowledged that number could be much higher.
"Today we join the [FSIN] to support the search for those children who never returned home from residential schools in Saskatchewan," Bennett said during the announcement.
"We are here to reassure you that we will be there as you do the difficult work of finding the truths in Saskatchewan and on your healing journey."
She said the $4.88-million allocation was informed by the comprehensive plan FSIN put forward to help the First Nations it represents.
Bennett also said the government will continue to work with Indigenous and survivor organizations across the country to "seek their guidance and advice on the best way forward to recognize the children who died and to advance the work to identify, memorialize and commemorate those lost burial places."
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.