HomeNews1171 unmarked graves found near a former residential school in northern Ontario

171 unmarked graves found near a former residential school in northern Ontario

171 unmarked graves found near a former residential school in northern Ontario

A survivors group for unmarked graves at cemetery grounds linked to a former northern Ontario residential school (St. Mary’s Indian Residential School) has uncovered 171 “plausible burials”, the Wauzhushk Onigum Nation said Tuesday, with other sites still to be investigated.

The First Nation says with the exception of five grave markers, the rest of the plausible burials are unmarked.

The Kaatagoging Survivors Group has been searching the site for unmarked graves or human remains since May. On Tuesday, it announced its findings.

The group noted the investigation was launched under cultural protocols and that studies conducted by the technical, archeological and ground-penetrating radar teams were informed by survivor testimony.

Within the former school’s cemetery grounds, there are five grave markers. The nation said the next steps are to obtain greater certainty on the number of plausible graves on the cemetery grounds.

An estimated 150,000 children attended Canadian residential schools, which operated from 1832 to 1996. It’s believed up to 6,000 children died at the schools, although historical records are incomplete.

In a statement, Wauzhush Onigum Nation Chief Chris Skead reflected on how the findings affected him personally as the son of a residential school survivor.

“My community grieves, my people are hurting. When I spoke to them today I called upon them for strength. I said to them I’ll need their strength to be able to stand up there and talk about the results. It’s hard. Its very hard. At the same time, we know we have partners. We have allies. We have people all over the country walking with us,” he said.

The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc (First Nations government within the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council) announcement in May 2021 that more than 200 suspected unmarked graves had been identified on the grounds of the former school in Kamloops, B.C. has been followed by a wave of searches at numerous sites of residential institutions across this country.

The effort in Kenora received financial assistance from the federal and Ontario governments.

Skead said every discovery of unmarked graves nationwide further highlights how important it is for Canadians to understand the truth of what occurred in the residential school system.

Meanwhile, the woman appointed to work with Indigenous communities as they search for unmarked graves across Canada says the fight is not over for records that could answer “hard questions,” including who the missing children were, how they died and where they are buried.

Without records documenting the genocide of Indigenous Peoples, special interlocutor Kimberly Murray said, “deniers will continue to deny” and future generations could be led to forget.

Survivors of the residential institutions have “a right to know,” Murray told a national gathering on unmarked burials in Vancouver on Tuesday.

That right is not only individual, but collective, so the country can “draw on the past to prevent future violations,” said Murray, who is a member of Kanesatake Mohawk Nation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his government is committed to sharing all the information it can possibly find about the institutions in federal records.

Yet Murray said the search is still on for records held by Canadian authorities and churches that operated many of the institutions. Those records have the potential to help people as they search for missing family members, she said.

“I want Canadians to remember that these are our children. They didn’t get to grow up, become teenagers, love someone, but their parents, have a normal life. They didn’t get to play with other kids and navigate life,” Skead said.

“I want Canadians to look at their children and imagine what it was like. Imagine what it’s like for us. And then ask yourselves what reconciliation should mean.”

This article was reported by CP and National Post.