The Woodland Cultural Centre announced Sunday evening that the former Mohawk Institute, the first residential school in Canada, will remain standing. The site will also receive a bronze cast National Commemorative Marker recognizing the dark legacy of Canada & Churches Indian Residential Schools.
Centre Director Amos Keye Jr. said the opinions expressed at community input sessions were heard loud and clear. “Ninety-five percent said keep the buildings because it tells the truth seeing it. We want to save the evidence.”
The commemorative markers are part of a project by the Assembly of First Nations and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, in partnership with local communities to place monuments on all 139 sites of residential schools across Canada. It comes as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) of 2007.
The monument prototype was designed by a collective of five First Nations artists representing the Mi’kmaq, Metis-Cree, Mohawk, Dzwada̱’enux̱w and Inuit Nations. It was unveiled in a ceremony in Ottawa on March 12. The prototype bears traditional markings of many nations along the inner rim of a hand drum, and the outer rim is surrounded by braids signifying the practise of students hair being cut off once enrolled in residential school.
Six Nations Elected Band Council Chief Ava Hill made an announcement at the event on Sunday that Council would contribute $220,000 for repairs to the roof of the Mush Hole. She said, “The former Mohawk Institute is quite an old building and is need of much repair. Before Council decided whether to repair it or not, we asked the staff to conduct community consultations on whether the community wanted to keep the building or tear it down. Although some people said that they would like to see it torn down, the majority wanted to see it kept as a reminder of the residential era and what the government of the day did to our people. The renovations will start with the roof and the estimated cost to complete that will be around $1M. Last night at the event at the Woodland Cultural Centre, I announced that the Six Nations Elected Council has committed $220,000 towards the costs and I also put out the challenge for other organizations and the government to match that contribution. WCC will be undertaking a fund raising campaign to raise the remaining dollars and I will assist them wherever and however I can.”
Keye says a big part of the work ahead is Six Nations making an official statement designating the former residential school property a national historic site. Keye said, “My next step is to work with Carl Hill and Wray Maracle to go forward under the watchful eye of Chief Ava Hill and use our own moral authority to respond to this moral imperative. For the first time in our history, our own people will establish and designate our own national historic site.”
Keye says that the greater Canadian population is just beginning to grasp the truth about the history of Indigenous people, “We had a just and civil society. They are just now getting that.” It is his belief that this project is an important part to facilitating further education to the public and honouring the youth who attended the Mohawk Insititute. “It’s like they are veterans. It’s about honouring those young people. They have given us what we have today.”