If you are a residential school survivor, you are able to contact the 24-hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 for support. Indigenous people can also access the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
 

It’s been one year since Canadians across the country saw the horrors of our former residential school system, as leadership of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced that 215 bodies of former students were found at their former residential school site in Kamloops, BC.

The story made headlines around the world. In Kenora, a memorial began with a number of pairs of children’s shoes, stuffed animals and orange flowers in front of City Hall, with dozens of pairs of shoes later lining the roundabout near the mall.

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Tk’emlúps’ discovery prompted First Nation communities across Canada to begin looking for their lost children using ground penetrating radars. In northwestern Ontario, searches continue in Wauzhushk Onigum, Grassy Narrows First Nation and in Fort Albany First Nation.

Grassy Narrows leadership are searching the former McIntosh Residential School near Vermilion Bay, which was operated by the Roman Catholic Church for 44 years. Records from the Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre show at least 25 students passed away between 1941 and 1949, with causes of death only listed for 10 of the 25 students.

Members of the Nishnawbe AskI Nation are searching the former St. Anne’s site in Fort Albany First Nation, one of the most notorious residential schools across the country. It operated for 70 years with the use of a homemade electric chair, 4 workers were charged for their prior crimes as staff members, and records show at least 24 students passed away while attending the institution.

In Wauzhushk Onigum near Kenora, the community will be searching the site of St. Mary’s, which operated for 36 years near the current Golden Eagle Casino site. Documents show that at least 36 students passed away while the school was in operation, and students were subjected to illegal nutritional experiments.

Also in Kenora, a search of the former Cecilia Jeffrey school site still needs to begin. The school ran for 75 years at the site of the current Grand Council Treaty #3 office near Round Lake. Records show at least 37 students passed away while attending the Presbyterian Church-ran school, which became the focal point of Gord Downie’s Secret Path in 2016. Documents also detail illegal experimental ear treatments in 1954.

Today, the Ontario government and the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs is inviting all Ontarians to reflect on the tragic and painful legacy of Canada’s residential school system, which stripped roughly 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes and cultures for over 140 years.

Records from Canada’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation show that at least 38,000 children faced physical and sexual abuse during their time in the system, and through the end of 2021, at least 4,127 children never made it home. That number is expected to grow after the centre received additional documentation from the federal government in early 2022.

Ontario adds they plan to honour survivors, their families, communities and children that never returned from residential schools on Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, both of which fall on September 30, 2022.

Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration event of 2013. It grew out of a residential school survivor’s story of having her new orange shirt taken away on her first day at the mission. Phyllis Webstad shared her story in 2013 after the initial incident took place in 1973.

As well, June is National Indigenous History Month. National Indigenous Solidarity Day is set for June 21 and National Aboriginal Veterans Day is set for November 8.

The federal government pledged more than $320 million to search residential school sites in 2021. Ontario has pledged another $20 million over a three-year span to identify, investigate and commemorate all 18 residential school burial sites across the province.