Warning: Some of the details in this story may be upsetting to some.
The Six Nations elected head of the Grand River is demanding that the discovery of potentially unmarked graves at a former residential school in Brantford be treated as a criminal investigation.
Mark Hill, on behalf of the survivors, is suggesting that the investigation into the former Mohawk Institute residential school should take the form of a multi-jurisdictional police task force.
“As stated in our June 11 letters to the Premier, the Solicitor General, the Attorney General, the Chief Coroner’s Office, as well as the Ontario Provincial Police, this is again a criminal death investigation,” Hill said in a presser Out Front. pre-school on Wednesday
“We’re starting that way because we’ve seen what other communities have done.”
Hill stated that there is “a lot of work to be done” and that a search should be assisted by Survivor-led by funding from both the federal and provincial governments.
“We have not yet received any funding from the federal or provincial governments to pursue this important work, and in fact, further, we have not received an official response from our Prime Minister of our letter dated May 31,” Hill said.
The chief expressed his displeasure with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a recent visit to Hamilton that did not include a stop at the former residential school – only 30 minutes away.
The Mohawk Institute was opened in 1828 and moved to Brentford in 1840 and was destroyed by two separate fires in 1858 and 1903. After the final reconstruction, the federal government took responsibility for the school in 1945 before closing in 1970, with some children in residence until 1971.
Records from the center show that around 54 children died in the 142 years of operation of the institute.
Some grounds have been explored through infrastructure repairs over the years, but not all of the surrounding areas.
“We don’t know where those little bodies are buried,” Hill said.
“We know that throughout the history of the institution, there was over 500 acres that constituted the property of the school.”
On Monday, both the federal and Ontario governments pledged a combined $9.4 million for another phase of residential school building restoration. Ottawa is pouring the bulk of the money through its investments, with $7.6 million in the Canada Infrastructure Program and $1.8 million coming from Queens Park.
A newly created Survivor Secretariat is set to provide $1 million to launch a community-led search on an interim basis.
“We are here to provide support and resources, and we hope that all other communities and organizations will do the same. With this work, we have learned what we have learned from other communities who are also going through the same pain and trauma. That is, we need to take our time in this journey to heal ourselves,” Hill said.
The site is home to the Woodland Cultural Center, which preserves and promotes the indigenous history, art, language, and culture of the Haudenosaunee people of the Eastern Woodlands.
The agency’s “Save the Evidence” campaign is developing the building as a landmark with a definitive history of residential schools in Canada.
In memory of the children who were part of the residential schools, the building’s entrance stairs have been covered with small shoes, stuffed animals and other objects in recent weeks.