“Missing Children and Burial Information” – Current status of the TRC Calls to Action?

“I call on Canadians – elders and youth, Aboriginal or not – to commit to reconciliation and breaking down the wall of indifference.” Honourary Witness to the TRC, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, former Governor General of Canada

Indifference.

The official government of Canada website “Delivering on Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action” was last updated on Sept. 5, 2019 – almost two years ago. Three of the Six Calls to Action dedicated exclusively to “Missing Children and Burial Information” have not yet started – 6 years after the release of the TRC Summary Report in June 2015.

Indifference.

Once the scale of the deaths of Indigenous children became more evident to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after hearing testimony from survivors, the Commission sought to broaden their mandate to include finding out what happened to the missing children, the undocumented deaths and what was the truth behind their disappearance. The government of Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused.

Indifference.

And lest we forget. The Catholic Church actually operated the Kamloops Residential School from 1893 to 1969 when the federal government took over and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1977. And also, lest we forget, the Catholic Church is the only church to never apologize for their role in operating over 60% of the 139 residential schools in Canada as opposed to the other three churches who also operated some of the residential schools and who did apologize:

ChurchDate of ApologyDescription
United Church August, 1986
1998
For over-all dismissal of Indigenous spiritual beliefs
Specifically to residential school survivors for the church’s role
Anglican Church
August 6, 1993
July 12, 2019
To residential school survivors for physical, emotional and sexual abuse
For harm inflicted through cultural and spiritual arrogance
Presbyterian Church1994 For its role in the residential school system

After the Catholic Church refused to apologize, the intransigence continued with Pope Francis who also refused to apologize to Indigenous survivors of residential schools for the churches role in their abuse and suffering.

Indifference.

If the government is truly committed to reconciliation you would think that they would be more open and transparent about what they are doing. The question on everyone’s mind after the discovery of the mass graves of 215 Indigenous children in Kamloops in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory is “What next?” In addition to the federal government who have prime responsibility and accountability, other levels of government – provincial, territory and municipal – as well as the churches are also accountable stakeholders in responding to the six Calls to Action highlighted below.

“Indifference” has been a policy option in the past. After May 27, 2021 – not any more.

As of May 31, 2021, the current status of the six Missing Children and Burial Information Calls to Action are as follows:

TRC Call to Action # 71

We call upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Current Status: STALLED

As of 2014, as stated in “Honoring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, Summary of the Final Report of the TRC (July 23, 2015 p. 259) Chief Coroners in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Manitoba and Nova Scotia responded to the Commission’s request for records. Also, as of 2014, in addition to the office in British Columbia, vital statistics offices in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Yukon, and Nunavut had responded to the Commission’s request for records.

NOTES:

  • Total number of deaths in Residential Schools from 1867 – 2000: 3,201
  • TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair said the total number of recorded residential school deaths in Canada could be an underestimate given poor record keeping, and the real number of deaths could have been five to 10 times higher
  • Of the 342 deaths recoded in the north (NWT, Yukon and Nunavut) 110 are unnamed
  • According to the final report, between 1936 and 1944, 200,000 Indian Affairs files were destroyed.
  • The commission says government and school records failed to report the cause of death in about 43 per cent of cases.
  • Among cases with a reported cause of death, about half died from tuberculosis. Pneumonia and influenza combined accounted for another 10 per cent of deaths.
  • The Bryce Report submitted to the federal government in 1906 warned of the “unacceptably high rates of death in residential schools”. The government ignored his recommendations and forced Bryce out of the civil service

TRC Call to Action # 72

We call upon the federal government to allocate sufficient resources to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Current Status: IN PROGRESS

Budget 2019 announced $33.8 million over 3 years starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020 to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register and work with parties to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation: Records of Children’s deaths in Residential School

Sept, 30, 2019: Canadian Press – The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation revealed the names of 2,800 children who died in residential schools in a ceremony in Gatineau, Quebec. A 50-metre long blood red cloth bearing the names of each child and the schools they attended was unfurled and carried through a crowd of Indigenous children, elders and chiefs, residential school survivors and others. Ry Moran NCTR Director, says an additional 1,600 also died but remain unnamed. There were also many hundred who simply vanished, undocumented in any records so far uncovered. (Toronto Star). In total, 4,037 Indigenous children are listed in the Memorial Register:

# of children Description
1,953 Positively identified
365 Additional names added to memorial register after additional investigation
477 Under investigation
1,242 Known to have passed away but whose names are not yet known

TRC Call to Action # 73

We call upon the federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children.

Current Status: IN PROGRESS

Budget 2019 announced $33.8 million over 3 years starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020 to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register as well as establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries. No specifics identifying what the government is doing, with whom, by when.

Actions to Establish and Maintain an Online Registry of Residential School Cemeteries

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCB)
May 10, 2017 – CCB in consultation with the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council and Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle, is proposing that Catholic dioceses/eparchies, parishes, missions and organizations offer assistance on identifying, documenting, commemorating and protecting residential school cemeteries and related burial sites. Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle is the recently established Catholic coalition of Indigenous people, Bishops, clergy, lay movements and institutes of consecrated life, engaged in renewing and fostering relationships between the Catholic Church and Indigenous people in Canada.
Maamiikwendan: Remembering Residential Schools & Cemeteries as Indigenous Sites of Conscience
Oct. 16-17, 2019 – Presented by the Government of Canada, National Indigenous Residential School Museum of Canada, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and National Trust for Canada. Maamiikwendan aims to connect Indigenous groups and other organizations actively working to preserve Indigenous sites of conscience, and to open up participation to interested NGOs, faith groups, government representatives, and National Trust conference delegates. This event will create a space for dialogue, learning, and networking among groups who are doing similar work in their respective communities. Discussions will highlight challenges, solutions, cultural considerations, and best practices.
Maamiikwendan will create the groundwork for an Indigenous network of groups working on commemorating and researching Indian Residential Schools and Cemeteries. It will strengthen community connections and accelerate dialogue, not only among community groups, but for the NCTR, National Trust, governments, church groups, and all others playing important roles in the TRC’s Calls to Action. 

TRC Call to Action # 74

We call upon the federal government to work with the churches and Aboriginal community leaders to inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child’s burial location, and to respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home communities where requested.

Current Status: NOT STARTED

The government has been stating that they in “discussions with various partners, internal and external to the federal government, towards collaborating on an engagement strategy” for at the very least almost two years. Yet, there are no specifics identifying what the government is doing, with whom, by when, with what budget and with what expected outcomes.

TRC Call to Action # 75

We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children.

Current Status: NOT STARTED

The government has been stating that they in “discussions with various partners, internal and external to the federal government, towards collaborating on an engagement strategy” for at the very least almost two years. Yet, there are no specifics identifying what the government is doing, with whom, by when, with what budget and with what expected outcomes.

Commitments to Preserving Residential School

Residential School# of gravesComment
Red Deer Indian Industrial School20 confirmed (50-70 est.Oct. 13, 2019 – Founded in 1892, considered one of the most atrocious examples of the suffering, abuse and neglect rampant in the Canada’s residential school system, the school operated until 1918. The school was plagued by widespread disease, a defective sanitation system that led to further contamination and illness, overcrowding and one of the highest mortality rates of any such school in Canada. About 350 children attended the school. (Toronto Star – Edmonton)
Former Residential SchoolsJuly 27, 2020 – A UCalgary researcher is working with a number of partners across Canada to develop a strategy for digitally archiving the physical structures of the few remaining residential schools in Alberta. Two former provincial residential schools — Old Sun Community College and University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills — will be digitally captured by Blackfoot and Cree students working with University of Calgary researchers in archaeology (Dawson), computer science (Dr. Faramarz Samavati, PhD) and geomatics engineering (Dr. Derek Lichti, PhD).
Regina Indian Industrial School (RIIS)35 childrenJuly 26, 2017 – (RIIS) Cemetery has been designated a Provincial Heritage Property.  The cemetery grounds contain the graves of approximately 35 children from First Nations and Métis communities in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba who died while attending the school.
Aug. 14, 2018 – A monument to commemorate and honour those who died while attending the Regina Indian Industrial School (RIIS) over 100 years ago was unveiled today. “This plaque is a permanent feature to commemorate the children who passed while attending the school, and acknowledges the impact residential schools had on Saskatchewan peoples and communities.”
Muskowekwan Residential School 35 childrenA Métis archeologist at the University of Alberta working with the Muskowekwan First Nation in Saskatchewan may have discovered graves of missing children from the nearby residential school that closed in 1997. “In the records there were 35 children who were unaccounted for, that disappear off the records, and nobody quite knows what happened,” said Kisha Supernant. operated from 1889 to 1997 and stands on the land of the Muskowekwan First Nation, which is trying to save the deteriorating building—one of the last standing residential school buildings in Western Canada—to turn it into a museum.
Brandon Indian Residential School51 childrenAug. 28, 2018 – Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs wants the city of Brandon to protect the unmarked graves that are now part of a RV campsite.

TRC Call To Action # 76

We call upon the parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies in accordance with the following principles:

  1. The Aboriginal community most affected shall lead the development of such strategies.
  2. Information shall be sought from residential school Survivors and other Knowledge Keepers in the development of such strategies.
  3. Aboriginal protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site.

Current Status: NOT STARTED

The government has been stating for almost two years that they in “discussions with various partners, internal and external to the federal government, towards collaborating on an engagement strategy”. Yet, there are no specifics identifying what the government is doing, with whom, by when, with what budget and with what expected – and realistic – outcomes

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