The Manitoba government announced plans to kick in seven figures of government funds to help investigate the sites of former residential schools.
Making the announcement on National Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the province announced it would commit $2.5 million to “begin the work of supporting the identification, investigation, protection and commemoration of Indian Residential School burial sites across the province,” according to a June 21 press release.
Like other measures put in place across Canada, the inspiration for the funding was the discovery of 215 dead Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves at a residential school site in Kamloops, B.C. last month. Since the discovery, First Nations leaders - including several chiefs in northern Manitoba - have called on different levels of government to help search other residential school sites for other unmarked graves.
Manitoba has its own dark past with residential schools. A similar discovery to the one in Kamloops came this month in Brandon. A group led in part by the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation announced the discovery of 104 unmarked graves at the Brandon Indian Residential School, buried in three possible burial sites.
Where exactly the money itself will go is unknown - the province plans to meet with Indigenous leaders and elders to determine what projects or work the funding will go toward. The provincial government also announced it would “consider additional initiatives, led by Indigenous and Northern Relations with the support of other provincial departments as needed, to support communities through this process.”
A total of 14 residential schools were operated in Manitoba from the 19th century until the 1980s. The last residential school operating in Manitoba, the McKay Residential School in Dauphin, shut down for good in 1988. Five of those schools operated in northern communities or regions, with a sixth - the Sturgeon Landing Residential School - operating in northern Saskatchewan just across the provincial border, about 50 kilometres due south of Flin Flon.
“While inconclusive records make it difficult to determine how many children attended these schools in Manitoba, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) estimated at least 338 children died attending Indian Residential Schools in Manitoba,” reads the province’s June 21 release.
“However, the identification of 104 unmarked graves at the Brandon Residential School demonstrates there are likely more.”
News of the funding was greeted by several Indigenous leaders, including Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee.
“The last few weeks have been a difficult time for survivors of residential schools, as well as their descendants, as we are triggered by the discovery of unmarked graves in Kamloops and also right here in Brandon, Manitoba,” said Settee.
“First Nations children in northern Manitoba were often forcibly removed from their homes to attend residential schools in various locations, many of them never to return home again to their loving families. Today’s announcement is an important one as it signals that Manitoba is willing to work with First Nations in taking the next steps to identify and locate our missing children.”