UPDATE: Search uncovers 171 ‘plausible burials’ near Ontario residential school 

Updated: Jan., 17, 2023  5:32 pm

KENORA, Ont.: Searches for unmarked graves at cemetery grounds linked to a former northern Ontario residential school have 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.

Federal and provincial ministers were expected to meet with the First Nation Tuesday for discussions, including about resources to continue the investigation.

“Both Canada and Ontario have continued to express their commitment to reconciliation, to the truth, and to healing of our communities,” Chief Chris Skead said in a news release Tuesday.

“Finding the truth and exercising caution on everything touched by this genocidal legacy comes at a price and it’s a price our Treaty partners need to be prepared to pay. That is true reconciliation.”

MP Honourable Greg Rickford said  “The news from Wauzhushk Onigum Nation is heartbreaking. Today’s discovery, the result of an eight-month investigation, is a tragic first for Ontario.

As the Member of Provincial Parliament for Kenora Rainy-River and the Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs, I join with the Wauzhushk Onigum Nation and all Treaty 3 partners to mourn today’s sad news.

As soon as the findings were released, I communicated with Chief Skead to offer Ontario’s full support. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the community during this difficult time and will continue working with partners to assist with the next phase of this work.

As we continue to uncover the truth of our collective past on the journey toward reconciliation, we will continue to support these investigations and will support healing for Survivors, their families and community members suffering from mental health and addictions due to intergenerational trauma and harms inflicted by the Indian Residential School system.”

According to records provided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at least 36 children died at the St. Mary’s Residential School near Kenora, Ont., the First Nation said.

“Based on conversations with survivors, and their testimonies, the true number is believed to be significantly higher,” it said.

The anomalies were found during studies conducted by its technical, archeological and ground-penetrating-radar team, and informed by testimony from survivors, the First Nation said.

The studies uncovering the 171 anomalies were first launched in May 2022. The First Nation is now seeking resources to get greater certainty on the number of plausible graves in the cemetery grounds and to conduct investigations into sites near the school.

Those sites, which are not covered by the current search, have been identified by survivor testimony, archeological assessment, and archival investigations, the First Nation said.

Between 1897 and 1972, more than 6,000 Indigenous children attended the residential school.

“The news from Wauzhushk Onigum Nation is heartbreaking. Today’s discovery, the result of an eight-month investigation, is a tragic first for Ontario.

 

As the Member of Provincial Parliament for Kenora Rainy-River and the Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs, I join with the Wauzhushk Onigum Nation and all Treaty 3 partners to mourn today’s sad news.

 

As soon as the findings were released, I communicated with Chief Skead to offer Ontario’s full support. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the community during this difficult time and will continue working with partners to assist with the next phase of this work.

As we continue to uncover the truth of our collective past on the journey toward reconciliation, we will continue to support these investigations and will support healing for Survivors, their families and community members suffering from mental health and addictions due to intergenerational trauma and harms inflicted by the Indian Residential School system.”

Support services are available for those affected by this news:

Culturally relevant mental health support services for members of the Indigenous community are accessible toll-free at 1-855-242-3310 or online at Hope For Wellness.

 

You can also contact the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-866-925-4419.

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2023.

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