Ontario announced Tuesday Can$10 million (US$8 million) to search for and look after unmarked graves of indigenous residential school students in the Canadian province, after burials were discovered elsewhere in the country.
“Like all Ontarians, I was heartbroken by the tragic news that a burial site was found at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told a news conference.
“We grieve for the 215 children that lost their lives (in Kamloops), as well as their families and the communities that they were taken from,” Ford said.
“This is a moment to recognize the painful legacy of Canada’s residential school system, and of the damaging lasting effects it has had on survivors and indigenous communities.”
Canada has been convulsed by the discovery of remains at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, where only 50 deaths were officially recorded.
The school was one of 139 boarding schools set up across Canada a century ago to forcibly assimilate the country’s indigenous peoples.
More than 4,100 students are believed to have died from disease or malnutrition at the schools, where students were physically and sexually abused by headmasters and teachers who stripped them of their culture and language.
The Ontario funding, spread over three years, will be used to “identify, investigate, protect and commemorate residential school burial sites and cemeteries,” Ford said.
In some cases, if it is the wish of their families and communities, the children’s remains may be repatriated.
A truth and reconciliation commission has identified 17 former residential schools in Ontario, and 12 possible unmarked burial sites.
The British Columbia coroner is working with the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc tribe to identify the remains and causes of deaths of the 215 pupils at the Kamloops school, while pressure is mounting on the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who ran the school on behalf of the federal government to release their records.
Searches have also turned up more unmarked student grave sites in Manitoba and Saskatchewan provinces.