The Saskatchewan government is providing $2-million for research into undocumented deaths and burials on residential school sites in the province.
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which is to receive the money, says it is “a tremendous start that’s going to get us going in the right direction.”
He says the funding is to go toward ground radar searches, healing activities, and ceremonies and consultations with residential school survivors.
“A big portion of it will go to [gathering] survivors’ input, their stories on where to start,” Cameron said Friday. “Their input, their guidance is going to drive this whole process.
“We cannot make it more clear: we will not deviate from their direction and advice.”
The federation, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, has identified a number of former residential school sites where more research is needed, including Muskowekwan, Onion Lake, Beauval, Guy Hill, Lebret and Sturgeon Landing.
Cameron said he expects it to be “a long process, a healing process,” and that the list of sites to be scrutinized will increase over time.
“There are still survivors out there who don’t know where their loved one is,” he said.
“They’ve never seen them. They have disappeared. We hear these stories at every single residential school site: `I haven’t found my little brother. I haven’t seen my little sister. I don’t know where they went.”'
Don McMorris, minister responsible for First Nations, Metis and northern affairs, said he hopes the funding will help bring closure to families of children who never came home.
“Part of this collective grief we feel as a society is that there are so many questions that remain unanswered and so many records and details that have been lost about these children who attended the schools,” he said.
“To this day, it remains unclear just how many children may have been laid to rest away from their families and loved ones, without cultural ceremonies, at residential school sites across the country.”
McMorris is calling on the federal government to match or exceed the province’s funding for the “vitally important work.”
“The federal government has a large portion to play in this, but we felt that we needed to initiate this, because it is top of mind for so many right now,” he said. “This is unprecedented work. There have been many stories, but never the spotlight that we’re seeing right now – and it’s a good thing.”
Last month, a First Nation in British Columbia announced that ground-penetrating radar had found what are believed to be the remains of 215 children buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops. The school was once the largest in Canada’s residential school network.
The federal government has promised up to $27-million over three years for research and knowledge-gathering into children who died at residential schools.
McMorris said Saskatchewan does not yet have a clear signal from Ottawa as to what portion of that money will be available in the province.
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