WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Survivors of a former residential school from Six Nations of the Grand River say the grounds search for unmarked graves should be a criminal investigation.
Chief Mark Hill, standing with survivors at what is now the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ont., says his community considers the search at the former Mohawk Institute Residential School a multi-jurisdictional criminal and potential death investigation. Six Nations police are also treating it as such.
“This is a criminal investigation, and our goal is to search for justice,” says Chief Mark Hill from Six Nations elected council.
Ontario’s chief coroner has also said it will support investigations through scientific and technical support of burial sites. Hill says the investigation will require nation-to-nation relationships as it pertains to records searches and other information gathering.
Hill also says the community hasn’t seen any federal or provincial money to help with the search. Earlier this year, Ottawa set aside $27.1 million for communities to identify burial sites.
Hill says the federal government hasn’t responded to a May letter from Six Nations elected council on the matter. He was also “quite disheartened” that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t visit the site on a recent visit to nearby Hamilton.
The investigation, he says, should be guided by survivors. That’s why elected council is spending $1 million to establish a survivors secretariat.
The issue of unmarked graves at residential schools drew national focus this year with the discovery of grave sites in Kamloops, B.C. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said preliminary findings from a survey of the site by ground-penetrating radar, combined with previous knowledge and oral history, indicated 215 children had been buried at the site.
In Brantford, Mohawk Institute survivors have said they are part of the planning to do a ground search.
“I think there’s a few boys around here,” said 82-year-old John Elliott, who says he attended the school with his brother at age 10.
The Mohawk Institute opened in 1828 as a day school for boys before it broadened to boarders and girls in 1834.
The school closed in 1970, making it one of the oldest and longest running residential schools in Canada.
Two years later, the Woodland Cultural Centre opened in the school building. It serves as a museum and provides education about the Mohawk Institute’s history.
The centre just received a cash injection to restore the building and designate it a national heritage site.
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those 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.
Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: WhereAreThey@cbc.ca.