Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation in northern Ontario will receive nearly $2.9 million over three years in combined funding from the federal and provincial governments to identify unmarked burial sites related to St. Mary’s Indian Residential School.
The funding will support local research, engagement and knowledge gathering, memorialization and commemoration, and bringing children home.
“This funding by Canada and Ontario marks an important beginning in our journey together as governments to discover and document the truth behind the genocidal laws and policies that our Anishinaabe people suffer the consequences of even today,” Wauzhushk Onigum Chief Chris Skead said in a statement.
“We know this path will be extremely difficult, and we do not know what we will find, but we will be guided by ceremony, by our Anishinaabe laws and protocols, and by our survivors so we can start understanding how to deal with this trauma.”
In a statement, an unnamed St. Mary’s survivor and Wauzhushk Onigum Elder said the project will be led by survivors, their memories, stories, as well as individual and collective healing.
“For decades, we have suffered in silence, and some of us still might not want to share,” they said in a news release.
“Before reconciliation must come truth, and it is time to uncover the truth. It is time to share with the rest of Canada what happened at these schools and how it affected us, our parents, our grandparents, our children and our future generations.”
Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation has been guided by residential school survivors and families. The community is establishing pathways to work with the many families and communities that have been affected by St. Mary’s.
The Canadian government will provide up to $2,498,230 over three years for the project, while Ontario will provide up to $400,000 for more than two years.
In June, the Ontario government pledged to spend $10 million to support identifying, investigating, protecting and commemorating residential school burial sites across the province.
Since spring, several Indigenous communities have announced that hundreds of unmarked graves have been found at the sites of former residential schools.
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.