New documents shed light on Manitoba residential school child deaths

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New documents are shedding light on the actual number of children who died at a residential school in northern Manitoba and it is dozens more than originally thought.

The documents, retrieved from the Catholic diocese in The Pas, indicated 84 children had died at the Cross Lake Residential School, a far cry from the 30 children Chief David Monias and the Pimicikamak First Nation had believed.

“The Catholic church wanted to help out in trying to find out the truth about what happened with the children at the residential school so we were asked to go and retrieve the documents,” said Monias. “It was pretty shocking to hear but at the same time not surprised, considering many of the First Nations were finding unmarked graves in their communities near the residential schools.”

That number doesn’t include any possible unmarked graves near the school, which is something the community is planning to investigate.

The release of the documents has led to more questions than answers, according to Monias. He said many of the children were simply listed with a first name or as infant, little girl, or little boy. Only about a quarter of the children had full names.

“But they were all from Cross Lake, that’s the only thing that we know. We are hoping we can find more information about them,” Monias said.

To help deal with the revelations, the community has been gathering to share information and tell stories so what happened in the past is not forgotten.

“Like any other survivor we are pretty much devastated and we’re traumatized,” said Monias.

The new documents do not provide clues as to the locations of possible unmarked graves, which is why the community is planning on conducting ground penetrating radar searches.

Monias said there are many oral histories of community family members who left to go to residential schools. Those stories led to questions of what the future was like for them and then, he said, you find out that they died.

“We’re ready to try and move on and try to find out more information and actually have more due diligence, research,” said Monias. “We have a team that is working. We have an individual that is investigating more information for us and hopefully we get answers.”

Closure is an important part of the process, with Monias saying it is part of the journey to better health and wellness.

“People can have peace knowing where their loved ones are buried and they can visit them or their children can visit them.”

 

With files from CTV's Maralee Caruso