There have long been whispers of hidden graves at the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford.
And elected Chief Mark Hill says despite official reports of 52 deaths at the school, many children who went missing while attending the Mohawk Institute remain unaccounted for.
On Tuesday, after Ontario Premier Doug Ford committed $10 million to fund the investigation of hidden graves at former residential school sites, Hill said the sites must be treated as crime scenes.
He called on the OPP commisioner, attorney general’s office and chief coroner’s office to partake in the investigation of missing children from the former Mohawk Institute, nicknamed the Mush Hole.
“When it comes to the Mush Hole, the word ‘complex’ does not begin to capture the essence, scope and magnitude of the effort required to search for the missing bodies of all children buried on the grounds of the Mohawk Institute,” Hill said Tuesday morning while standing in front of the former residential school on Mohawk Street in Brantford, accompanied by Mush Hole survivors.
Premier Ford said his government will provide $10 million in funding over the next three years to identify residential school burial sites, in addition to funding mental health supports during the investigation.
“We must confront what happened for reconciliation to be achieved,” said Ford. “It’s important for all Ontarians to be aware of the dark history and painful legacy of the Indian residential school system.”
Treaty #3 Grand Chief Francis Kavanaugh said the discovery of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School last month has re-opened old wounds for Indigenous people across Canada.
“Our nation is heartbroken,” he said. “This news has affected our people in deeply profound ways.”
He said while Indigenous people already knew about hidden graves at residential schools, it’s still “incredibly painful to relive.”
Survivors have been telling the truth for decades, he said.
“It has impacted every First Nation person across Canada. Survivors told us first hand of children buried in secret off school grounds or cremated.”
Kavanaugh added, “Many Canadians were shocked, perhaps shamed,” upon learning of the discovery, and he encouraged them to learn more about residential schools and other forms of colonial violence inflicted on Indigenous people.
Chief Hill, accompanied by Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis and Brantford-Brant Member of Parliament Will Bouma, asked people to imagine having their children taken away from them, never to be seen again.
“This was the experience of many Indigenous families,” said Chief Hill. “All of our communities remember. A full investigation into all burial sites has become critical. At Six Nations, this has been a bitter renewal of grief for all of us. We, too, have had our children taken away from us to a residential school, the Mohawk Institute, also known as the Mush Hole.”
It was one of the longest-running residential schools in Canada, operating for 142 years.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has documented 52 children that died at the Mohawk Institute.
“But we don’t know how many others are out there, or, most importantly, where they are buried,” said Hill.
Children from northern First Nation communities were also sent to the Mush Hole, said Hill, “but again, we don’t know what happened to them. The Mohawk Institute was unregulated and unaccountable from the start.”
The federal government was responsible for neglecting the health and safety of children, which resulted in high death rates at residential schools, he said.
“To this very day at Six Nations, there are whispers within our community about our missing children and where they might be buried. It is past time that we find them and bring justice. Six Nations is adamant that we must do this right and with the best technical expertise and equipment available.”
Hill said he is pleased that the premier made the announcement, adding that Ford leads the country in taking the right steps to find hidden burial sites.
“We don’t know how many children in total we’re talking about. It is essential that we find out. The question is ‘how many will be found here?’”
Chief Hill stressed that the investigations must be led by Indigenous people and residential school survivors.
“Six Nations is encouraged in the hope we will find all of our missing children.”