Politics

Six Nations wants $10M to search residential school grounds, a third of Ottawa's allocated funds

The chief and council of Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario are asking Ottawa for $10 million to fund a search for possible remains on the grounds of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School.

Community asks for $10M of $27M allocated to search former residential school grounds

The former Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ont., is shown in this undated photograph. Six Nations of the Grand River wants the property searched for possible burial sites. (Canada Dept. of the Interior/Library and Archives Canada/PA-043613)

The chief of Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario is asking Ottawa for $10 million to fund a search for possible remains of children on the grounds of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School.

If approved, it will account for more than a third of the $27.1 million envelope the federal government set aside for communities to identify burial sites.

Chief Mark Hill said it's a substantial, but necessary request to conduct a full investigation.

"It's really for justice," Chief Mark Hill told CBC News.

"I don't know how we can go to 'commemorate' and 'thoughts and prayers' when we still have people who deserve justice."

Hill made the request in a June 11 letter sent to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.

"To this day there are many whispers in the community about where our children are buried," Hill wrote in the letter obtained by CBC News.

"It is now time to find them so they can be at rest."

Hill also wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month calling on the government to supply tools to search the grounds of the former Mohawk Institute, now the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ont.

Money just a start

Hill said the community created a working group made up of residential school survivors, and political and administrative support, to guide the search, following the discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites of children's remains adjacent to a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Hill said the $10 million would be an initial start and he isn't sure it's enough. 

Chief Mark Hill of Six Nations of the Grand River says the federal government can show its commitment to the community by providing its full funding request. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The former Mohawk Institute, which was run by the Anglican Church, was the first and longest operating residential school in Canada. 

The school was burned down twice and changed locations, which is why Hill said it requires a large scale inspection.

He said children were also forced to endure hard labour on surrounding farm lands. Developments have encroached upon the area, which Hill said raises concerns about the feasibility of locating possible burial sites.

"We don't have all the answers right now, but we do know that we need to start as quickly as possible with these searches," Hill said. 

Hill said he also wants to see a criminal investigation and supports a call for an inquiry into burial sites at former residential school sites by Murray Sinclair, the former chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"We can't just go down the commemoration lane," Hill said.

"It's not enough."

Help needed yesterday

Hill said he wasn't part of consultations with the federal government before the $27.1 million fund was announced last week for residential school site searches, and hasn't had any direct conversations with Ottawa about how to access funding. 

He said it was challenging for the community to wrap its mind around the amount of work and dollar figure that would be required. 

Hill said the money would be used to conduct inspections and provide support to survivors. 

Chief and council of Six Nations of the Grand River are waiting a response from Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller. 

Chief and council of Six Nations of the Grand River are waiting a response from Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Bennett said Thursday the federal government is distributing funding for burial ground searches on an urgent basis.

"We are actively reaching out to Indigenous communities to work with them," Bennett said.

"Communities know what they need and our government will be there to support their way forward."

The money is meant to help Indigenous communities develop plans, conduct research and gather information to identify burial sites, commemorate and return remains home. 

Hill said he would've liked to have seen the money yesterday.

"We talk about reconciliation in this country and, in fact, I'm getting sick of that word because I don't know what it means at this point."


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

Any Six Nations members who are looking for help or in need of someone to talk to are directed to the following resources:

24/7 Mobile Crisis Line: 519-445-2204 or 1-866-445-2204.

Six Nations Mental Health and Addictions: 519-445-2143 (Monday-Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm).

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.

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