SIX NATIONS — There are 48 deaths recorded at the former Mohawk Institute, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. But the Survivors Secretariat announced Monday that archival research has so far identified 97 known deaths at the school, double the amount officially on record.
And at the Annual General Meeting for the Survivors Secretariat, held at The Gathering Place on Tuesday afternoon, officials said it could take another 10 years before all the property connected to the school is covered using ground penetrating radar as the search for unmarked graves continues.
The Secretariat’s search will enter its second year this spring, almost three years after the remains of over 250 children were first found at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., sending shockwaves around the world.
When the news first broke, in May 2021, Laura Arndt, Six Nations Survivors Secretariat lead, was with her mother, a residential school survivor.
“It is because of her that I am honoured to represent the Survivor’s Secretariat,” Arndt said Tuesday.
Thanks to quick funding from Six Nations Elected Council, Arndt said the Secretariat was able to mobilize quickly as it began the work of searching for potential hidden graves around “the Mushhole”, Canada’s longest-operating residential school.
“Our success in the first year sits largely in the generosity of this community,” said Arndt.
The Secretariat is still short of the funding needed to complete the work.
They had originally asked Canada for $26.4 million — at $8.9 million a year for three years — but have only received confirmation of a $3.4 million investment for 2021-2022. Only about 30 per cent of what was needed.
From the province, a total of $9 million was requested at $3 million over three years. To date, Ontario has only committed $1.2 million for the work from 2021-22.
“These funds will be insufficient to complete the work that will be done for the next 10 years,” said Arndt. “This work has never taken place in Canada before. We cannot put a budget to a process that is tied to genocide.”
The bulk of the expense for the project in 2021-22 is connected to research and documentation at $542,913.16. Operating costs for the Secretariat for the 2021-22 year are running at $385,839.27.
And the team says they have only touched on all the documents that need to be uncovered.
Know History, a research team that has joined in the work, is helping to uncover information and documents related to the operation of the Mushhole.
“It’s painstaking work,” said Arndt.
Records are not centrally located to one department or physical library in Canada but is spread out across several libraries, archives, private collections, universities and other facilities that all need to be searched for records to bring the whole story about the students, their time at the school, and what happened to those that never made it home.
The Secretariat says they are working toward bringing those records to the public by way of a database that will give the community access to the records of their family who attended the school and put that information back into the hands of families.
The search of the grounds so far has cost $180,184.60. Reflecting just 12% of the budget.
There is 600 acres of land connected to the school to search.
Four weeks of ground penetrating radar work was done in 2021 covering 10 acres of property directly surrounding the school. Officers from the Six Nations Police were tasked with participating in the first round of ground penetrating radar work.
“It’s been my sincere pleasure and an honour to provide the assistance we did over the last year and a half. I am truly honoured and humbled. I told my officers this is probably the most passionate work you will ever do in your policing career and I’ve talked to those officers on it and that is how they feel,” said Six Nations Chief of Police Darren Montour.
Police services from Brantford, Six Nations and the OPP all came together in a multi-jurisdictional task force to work on the initial criminal investigation that was launched into student deaths at the school after historical remains of an indigenous male youth, believed to have been a student from the Institute, were uncovered in a wooded area on lands that were historically a part of the school’s property.
No further details on the investigation into that youths remains have been made public.
A 24 hour police tip line was launched in 2021 for anyone to share stories about possible criminal activity that took place at the school.
The Secretariat now says they expect to wind down the criminal investigation, with a final report on the results of that investigation to be released sometime this year.
The search will continue to be led by the Coroner’s office — meaning the work will now focus on who died, the nature of their death and the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
Montour says an officer from the Six Nations Police will be tasked with working alongside the Coroner’s Office on that part of the work.
“The Office of the Chief Coroner will continue to support the Survivors Secretariat in trying to find answers about what happened to children who didn’t return home after being sent to Indian Residential Schools,” says Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s Chief Coroner. “We will work closely with the community to determine the next steps forward and share our findings along the way.”