Canada Pledges $83 Million to Locate Unmarked Graves at Residential Schools

The funding announcement, which comes amid election rumours, is geared towards supporting Indigenous residential school survivors and their families.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
August 10, 2021, 8:54pm
memorial for unmarked graves and Indigenous children at Canadian parliament
Shoes line the edge of the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in memory of the children whose remains were found at the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang 

Canada has announced $83 million (US$66.3 million) in new funding to help Indigenous communities locate unmarked graves at former residential school sites and memorialize lost loved ones. 

According to Tuesday’s statement, the funds are in addition to $27.1 million already allocated for unmarked grave searches. They come amid rumours that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will call a snap federal election soon.

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In May, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed more than 200 probably unmarked graves of children, some as young as 3, at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School grounds. Other Indigenous nations followed, with more than 1,000 unmarked graves confirmed across Canada in 2021 so far, acting as a painful reminder of the horrors Indigenous peoples lived through when forced to attend the “schools.”

Canada’s residential school system was run by the federal government, along with churches, for more than a century to forcibly assimilate 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children. Disease, malnutrition, and sexual and physical abuses were common, and thousands of children died. 

The money is part of a greater $320 million pool that will support “Indigenous-led, survivor-centric, and culturally informed initiatives and investments to help Indigenous communities respond to and heal from the ongoing impacts of residential schools,” Tuesday’s statement says.

“Work towards the establishment of a National Advisory Committee is also underway,” Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett announced on Tuesday. She said the committee will include experts who specialize in archeology, forensics, and mental health, and will support communities and government in their searches.

In 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated residential schools and their ongoing legacy, asked the government, then led by former conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for $1.5 million to investigate unmarked burials, but the request was denied. 

Calls to action published by the TRC in 2015 urged the government to help communities locate unmarked graves and lost relatives in a culturally-appropriate and informed way.

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Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti announced the government will appoint a  “special interlocutor” who will work with Indigenous communities, as well as provincial and territorial governments, to put together recommendations for laws and best practices for undocumented and unmarked graves at former residential school sites. Additional funds will go towards furthering mental health support, including maintaining the Indian Residential School Crisis Line for survivors and their families. 

Trudeau’s government has faced a lot of pressure to own up to Canada’s role in the residential school system, and many, including a group of 15 lawyers, are pushing to see Canada charges for crimes against humanity and genocide.

Anyone experiencing distress or pain as a result of residential schools can call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419). It’s available 24/7.

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