Indigenous communities to get access to funding for residential school site searches

Nearly a week after the discovery of 215 dead children at a residential school in Kamloops B.C., pressure is mounting on Ottawa to help fund more searches across the country. Nigel Newlove reports.

By Cormac MacSweeney, Hana Mae Nassar

OTTAWA – In the wake of the horrific discovery of the remains of 215 children at a Kamloops residential school site, the federal government says it will be informing Indigenous communities on how to access funding to conduct additional searches.

This comes amid growing calls for every former residential school site to be searched across Canada.

“We will be there to support every community that wants to do this work,” said Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett on Wednesday.

She says she and her department have been consulting with Indigenous communities, and that information will be distributed on Wednesday to let them know how they can get access to the $27 million the government had set aside in 2019 to help them find missing loved ones at residential schools.

Bennett says she’s heard loud and clear from these communities they want this work to be Indigenous-led, community-based, survivor-centric, and culturally sensitive.

“They wanted support for the research, access to archeological expertise, and commemoration,” Bennett said.

Some have questioned why it’s taken two years and the tragic discovery in Kamloops to free up this cash. Bennett says consultation was ongoing.

“As the engagement took place it was a matter of us then going with the details to the Treasury Board to be able to explain exactly how the money would be distributed,” she explained.

The Catholic church has not turned over records on the residential schools it ran. Bennett says Catholics should put pressure on the church to do what is right, adding Indigenous communities want an apology from the Pope.

A papal apology was one of the 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally asked the Pope to consider such a gesture during a visit to the Vatican in 2017.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in 2018 that the Pope could not personally apologize for residential schools, even though he has not shied away from recognizing injustices faced by Indigenous people around the world.

Miller says it’s “shameful” that an apology hasn’t been issued to date and there is a responsibility that lies squarely on the shoulders of Catholic bishops in Canada.

The latest on the access to funding comes after the House of Commons held a special “take-note” debate Tuesday night.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said Canadians can’t close their eyes and pretend residential schools didn’t happen. He added that they must acknowledge Canada failed in its duty to those children, their families, and their communities.

The former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has also said Canadians should be prepared for the discovery of more children’s remains at other residential school sites across the country.

Retired senator Murray Sinclair says the remains found in Kamloops mirror horrendous stories he heard from survivors of the school system.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available for anyone affected by residential schools. You can call 1-866-925-4419 24 hours a day to access emotional support and services.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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