“It’s a tremendous start. It’s going to get us going in the right direction,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said Friday during a virtual press conference.
“We look forward to continuing the healing journey for our survivors and families,” the chief said.
The former residential schools of Muskowekwan, Onion Lake St. Anthony’s, Beauval, Guy Hill Sturgeon Landing and Lebret have already been identified as possible search sites. Cameron added that locations near George Gordon First Nation and the former provincial Timber Bay institution are of interest as well.
Saskatchewan First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs Minister Don McMorris acknowledged the funding announcement follows the tragic discovery of what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School run by the Catholic church. Their home community is the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation.
“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,” McMorris said.
Cameron said much of the money will be used to work with survivors, gathering input to guide the process. He noted there is no budget breakdown yet, as it will be contingent on survivors’ advice.
“The survivors will have a big voice here,” Cameron said.
He said a $5-million proposal has been put to the federal government for the needed work. It included parameters for extensive consultation with survivors, ceremonies and holistic healing as well as for ground-penetrating radar to physically search sites.
He noted the goal is to get going as soon as possible and that at some sites, the proper protocol and ceremonies have already taken place to allow for searching.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of that healing journey,” he said. “This is going to continue for quite some time.”
During the virtual event, McMorris said the government is committed to reconciliation.
“We acknowledge that there is a great deal of work to do,” he said. “We owe it to those who were lost to this residential school system and those who continue to suffer from the effects.”
Cameron noted recognition of the provincial schools, such as Timber Bay, is an important part of this as well.
The funding was explicitly said to be to support research into undocumented deaths and burials related to former federal residential schools.
“As chief mentioned, there is so much more work to do around this file, this is just one part of it,” McMorris said.
“We know this is a long road.”
The residential school system operated in Canada for more than a century. The federal government reports that 150,000 Indigenous children were separated from their families and communities to attend these schools.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates that approximately 20 federal residential schools operated in Saskatchewan from the 1880s to the 1990s.
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