Manitoba committing $2.5M to help identify and investigate residential school burial sites

The Manitoba government is committing $2.5 million to help identify, investigate, protect and commemorate residential school burial sites in the province.

Premier Brian Pallister, along with Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke, made the announcement in a news release on Monday. It comes after the discovery of a burial site of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., as well as 104 unmarked graves at the former Brandon Residential School.

The premier said these discoveries are “stark reminders of the tragedy and lasting impacts of Canada’s residential school system, and why we must do more to mark this passage in our country’s history.”

“This tragedy is deeply felt in Manitoba and our government is committed to working collaboratively and respectfully with Indigenous leadership, Elders, Knowledge Keepers and community members as we seek reconciliation, healing, and meaningful ways to honour the lives lost and support the survivors and their families in our province,” he said.

According to the province, it will be meeting with Indigenous leaders, elders, and knowledge keepers to determine how to use this money.

The province also noted that beyond this funding, it is also considering additional initiatives to support communities through the process of identifying, documenting, protecting, and commemorating the burial ground and unmarked graves.

“Our government is committed to working collaboratively with residential school survivors, families, Indigenous leadership and communities, Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and the federal government to support this very important and necessary process of truth-telling and healing that will help us move towards reconciling these historic wrongs,” Clarke said.

“Manitoba wishes to do its share in recognizing, reconciling, and healing. But our process must be and will be led by Indigenous peoples, especially survivors, families, Knowledge Keepers and Elders.”

MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in the news release that the last few weeks have been difficult for residential school survivors and their descendants due to the discovery of these unmarked graves.

He said First Nations children in northern Manitoba were often forcibly removed from their homes to go to residential schools, adding that many of them were never able to return to their families.

“Today’s announcement is an important one as it signals that Manitoba is willing to work with First Nations in taking the next steps to identify and locate our missing children,” he said.

“It is essential this process is led by Indigenous people and communities as we work to heal from the ongoing legacy of residential schools.”

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), said the AMC is glad the province is dedicating resources and agreeing to work with First Nations.

He said the province needs to follow the direction of First Nations to be respectful and successful.

“Our citizens are knowledgeable and can provide the right guidance to complete this work with partner organizations in a respectful and culturally appropriate way,” Dumas said.

“While this amount is an initial start to begin the work, it will certainly take far more of a commitment and a collaborative long-term relationship with our governmental partners at all levels to step up and engage in this work.”

Manitoba notes that First Nation, Metis, and Inuit children would have attended at least one of the 17 residential schools in the province, 14 of which are officially recognized by the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. There were also 114 day schools across the province.

“On the heels of the devastating news regarding the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, it behooves us all to remain steadfast on surrounding ourselves with government allies who are committed to reconciliation in action with Inuit, First Nations and Métis in Canada,” said Rachel Dutton, executive director of the Manitoba Inuit Association.