The Ontario government has announced $10 million will be spent over the next three years to help identify and commemorate unmarked burial sites at former residential schools.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement alongside Ontario Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford as well as Indigenous elders and community members Tuesday morning.
“We grieve for each of the 215 children who lost their lives as well as for their families and the communities they were taken from,” Ford said at Queen’s Park, referencing the discovery of children found buried in unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C.
“There is painful but necessary work ahead, and we must confront what happened for reconciliation to be achieved.”
Speaking at an event at the Seven Generations Education Institute in Kenora virtually, Ford said it’s important for all Ontarians to be aware of the impacts of the residential school system.
Rickford called it one of the most “horrific events” as part of Canada’s “darkest chapter(s) in its history.”
He said 12 burial sites at residential schools have been identified through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but added there are likely more in existence.
“We know these are reopening wounds – some that have never healed quite frankly,” he said, adding search and recovery efforts will be Indigenous-led and will observe cultural practices.
Francis Kavanaugh, Grand Chief of the Grand Council Treaty #3, said the news out of Kamloops has affected people in “deeply profound ways.”
“While we already knew this occurred in Canada, it is incredibly painful to relive, especially survivors and our families who have bravely been telling us the truth for decades,” he said.
Kavanaugh said he has heard from survivors about children who have been buried off of school grounds and cremated.
He said he’s having discussions with Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers and community members about how best to respect the spirits of the children and how to best protect against further harm to survivors.
Kavanaugh had a message for Canadians who were “shocked” and “perhaps shamed” by the news out of Kamloops.
“I encourage them to learn about the real history of residential schools and the many other forms of colonial violence inflicted upon our people, starting with the territory they reside in, which is the nation of Treaty #3,” he said.
“I acknowledge the Government of Ontario for taking steps to decide us in our search to face the realities of residential school(s). This requires people to admit uncomfortable truths and the burial of children in unmarked graves is a crime against humanity, and I would deem the perpetrators of these atrocities less human than us.
“As a society, we can no longer hide behind the past or deny the realities of what happened in Canada. We must admit the crimes of the past and actively work towards ensuring that this is no longer buried truth.”
Kavanaugh encouraged survivors and their families to talk with someone when they are ready, saying the community can’t continue to suffer in silence.
The discovery has led to calls for action from Indigenous leaders, politicians, and residential school survivors for similar searches to be conducted at the sites of other residential schools.
Another search conducted in Manitoba led to the discovery of 104 potential graves at a former residential school near the city of Brandon.