Residential schools: 171 anomalies discovered at site in Ontario

A First Nation located in Kenora, Ont. says it has discovered anomalies on the grounds of a former residential school.

Wauzhushk Onigum Nation announced Tuesday that an investigation into the site of the St. Mary’s Indian Residential School using ground-penetrating radar has found at least 171 anomalies, which the Nation says are “plausible burials” within cemetery grounds on the school’s property.

“With the exception of five grave markers, the remaining are unmarked by any grave or burial markers,” a statement from the First Nation said.

“It’s been very challenging, to say the least,” said Chief Chris Skead. “Just with emotions. This discovery. The actual impact, not only with the survivors but with the Anishinaabe in general.”

St. Mary’s Indian Residential School operated from 1897 to 1972 in Kenora. The nation said 6,114 children attended the school during its years of operation. According to records from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at least 36 children died at the school while it was operating, though survivors believe the number is higher.

The investigation started in May 2022.

The Nation said the next steps are to gain greater certainty on the number of possible burials among the anomalies and to investigate several additional sites not covered during the first investigation. The sites were identified following testimony from survivors, archaeological assessment and archival investigations that show burial rituals being conducted by former staff at the school.

“We need to get to the truth,” Skead said. “And in order to get to the truth, we need sustained funding to conduct the work, as well as the aftermath or next steps that are going to be required to uncover the truth.”

Greg Rickford, Minister of Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs for Ontario, offered his condolences to Wauzhushk Onigum Nation.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with the community during this difficult time and will continue working with partners to assist with the next phase of this work,” Rickford said in a prepared statement.

“As we continue to uncover the truth of our collective past on the journey toward reconciliation, we will continue to support these investigations and will support healing for Survivors, their families and community members suffering from mental health and addictions due to intergenerational trauma and harms inflicted by the Indian Residential School system.”

Residential school sites across Canada have been searched since the discovery of 215 potential unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops.

Most recently, the Star Blanket Cree Nation in Saskatchewan reported more than 2,000 anomalies were discovered on the site of the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.

-With files from CTV’s Jon Hendricks

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419. Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous Peoples are available here.

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