Ontario will spend $10 million over three years to help Indigenous communities investigate the grounds of former residential schools, Premier Doug Ford said on Tuesday.
The funding announced by Ontario will go toward identifying, protecting and commemorating former residential school burial sites. Culturally-appropriate and trauma-informed mental health supports will also become available for residential school survivors, families and Indigenous communities.
“To this very day at Six Nations, there are whispers within our community about our missing children and where they might have been buried,” Chief Mark B. Hill of Six Nations of the Grand River said at Tuesday’s announcement. “It is past time that we find them and bring justice.”
The new funding follows the discovery of an unmarked mass grave of 215 Indigenous children in Kamloops B.C., on May 27, which sparked calls across the country to further investigate the grounds of former residential schools.
“We know the news from Kamloops has deeply impacted survivors and their families and that Indigenous people are hurting, including here in Ontario,” Ford said. “We’re here to support them. Indigenous leaders and Ontarians are seeking meaningful reconciliation.”
“While we’re prepared to work with the federal government, we simply cannot wait any longer to act, support survivors, their families, and Indigenous communities,” he added.
In 2015, the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that at least 426 children are known to have died at residential schools in 12 locations in Ontario, and that an unknown number are still missing.
Ontario Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford said at Tuesday’s announcement that the search for missing children will be thorough and extend beyond sites identified by the commission’s report, if needed.
The government will make technical experts available to communities, including archaeologists, forensic specialists and historians to help conduct “analysis and technical field work.” Ontario has tapped its chief forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Pollanen, and Chief Coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer, to assist in the process, Rickford said.
The funds announced by the province will be put to use “immediately,” he added.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath on Tuesday welcomed the funding, but cautioned the government not to limit the resources to what was announced Tuesday.
Kiiwetinoong NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa, who is one of the party’s three Indigenous members, also welcomed the funding, but said it will take a lot more money than was announced on Tuesday to do what’s necessary. He also said the government didn’t consult opposition parties about the funding announcement.
“The work that we need to engage in should be nonpartisan,” Mamakwa said.
In response to the announcement, Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said he supports the funding to identify and commemorate residential school burial sites.
“We owe the victims, their families, and the survivors a thorough investigation into each Residential School, so that we can understand the true damage done during those many years,” Del Duca wrote in a statement.
He also asked the government to reinstate the Indigenous curriculum changes that were cancelled in 2018, and called for a new standalone ministry for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also said he supports the funding announced on Tuesday.
“We need more than just words to address the horrors of residential schools and it is a good first step that this government is taking tangible action,” he wrote, adding that he hopes the funding is not capped at $10 million if more is needed.
More from iPolitics