Indigenous leaders are calling on all levels of government in Canada to align with them and complete a ground search to identify unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country.
“All these families have no idea what happened to them (children), they would want closure, questions answered and a thorough search,” Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron, said in an interview.
He called the findings of the children, “a worldwide tragedy.”
“Can you imagine if there were hundreds of white kids buried in the ground?”
Cameron said that identifying these bodies will bring peace to present-day Indigenous people who may have family ties to them.
In a release on Sunday, FSIN, a Saskatchewan federation representing 74 First Nations, said they were informed about several other mass grave sites at former schools in Saskatchewan, including: Muskowekwan Indian Residential School (IRS), Onion Lake St. Anthony’s IRS, Beauval IRS, Guy Hill IRS, Lebret IRS and Sturgeon Landing IRS.
“We are consulting with ground penetrating radar experts to help find our lost children. However difficult this path will be, we must speak our truth and reclaim our ancestors,” Chief Cameron said in the statement.
Terry Teegee, regional chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, says he’s heard widespread support for a thorough search to repatriate the bodies of all child victims.
“I agree with FSIN out of Saskatchewan. Here in British Columbia there’s a similar desire,” he said. “There’s always been a desire to figure out where these children are … This is unfinished business.”
Bringing these bodies back to their communities is the first step toward closure and healing, he said.
And making that happen means full engagement from the federal government.
“It would require the perpetrator of all of this — the federal government at the time — to provide the resourcing and necessary resources to carry out the project,” Teegee said. “As well as the mental health supports because this has reopened old wounds to survivors and families,” he added.
“It is a great open secret that our children lie on the properties of the former schools — an open secret that Canadians can no longer look away from,” Sol Mamakwa, an Indigenous NDP legislator who represents the Ontario riding of Kiiwetinoong said in a statement. “In keeping with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Missing Children Projects, every school site must be searched for the graves of our ancestors.”
Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq said the legacy of Canada’s residential schools is “one of deep intergenerational trauma, rooted in attempted cultural genocide and assimilation.”
Savikataaq said it is not simply a dark chapter in Canadian history, but continues to be a painful reality for all First Nations, Inuit and Metis.
“In order to move forward, all Canadians must face these horrors, learn the truth, demand justice and work toward meaningful reconciliation on our terms,” he said in a statement.
The calls for action come after the remains of 215 children were discovered in a mass grave last week, at what used to be one of the country’s biggest residential schools, Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Some of the children were as young as three.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, the home community of the school, made the discovery with new, ground-penetrating technology.
The facility ran between 1890 and 1969 before operations were transferred from the Catholic Church to the federal government and at its peak, as many as 500 students were registered in the system.
Memorials have popped up across the country. Children’s shoes were lined up in front of Queen’s Park in Toronto and on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
On Sunday, Suze Morrison, MPP for Toronto Centre spoke with the Sergeant-at-Arms at Queen’s Park after security attempted to remove the shoes for being ‘demonstration material.’
Morrison tweeted saying there are strict rules about demonstrations at Queen’s Park, but “compassion and reconciliation are needed here.”
Chief of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation R. Stacey Laforme sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking that flags be lowered across the country and that a national day of mourning be declared.
“There is so much emotion tied to this. Everyone is feeling pain and hurt and we need to act,” Laforme told the Star in an email statement.
“Yes, there is a lot more that needs to be done, but first and foremost let’s show love and respect.”
Laforme said the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation have also lowered their flag.
“It is a small gesture of respect but we have to start somewhere. This is a moment I want the country to never forget,” said Chief LaForme.
Premier Doug Ford called for the lowering of all flags at Ontario government buildings, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and Pickering will do the same.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said Sunday the city would lower its flag for nine days, which amounts to 215 hours to represents the life of each child lost.
The Toronto sign would also be dimmed “to further recognize the loss of life and the ongoing need for truth and reconciliation,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Trudeau said he has asked that flags on all federal buildings be flown at half-mast. He said he made the request, which will include the Peace Tower flag, to honour all Indigenous children who “never made it home,” the survivors of the school and their families.
School boards in the GTA are also lowering their flags to half-mast. The Toronto Raptors said Sunday they will also lower their flags for 215 hours at the city’s OVO Athletic Centre, tweeting “#WeTheNorth is a rally cry for all Canadians to come together & recognize that further truth & reconciliation is needed.”
If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, you can contact the Indian Residential School Survivors Society for counselling support available at 1-800-721-0066 or their 24/7 Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.
With files from Robert Cribb, Douglas Quan, Omar Mosleh and The Canadian Press
Cheyenne Bholla is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Breanna Xavier-Carter is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Reach her via email: email@example.com