The Six Nations Survivors’ Secretariat has been waiting since April for its latest transfer payment of $2.4 million to aid in the search for potential hidden graves at the former Mohawk Institute in Brantford.
Survivors’ Secretariat’s Executive Lead, Laura Arndt, is concerned about the federal government stalling the flow of funds to the organization.
In August 2021, the government announced the Survivors’ Secretariat would receive $10.3 million over three years to search over 600 acres of land associated with the former Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School.
To date the organization has received $2.5 million in federal funding but has been waiting on their last transfer payment of $2.4 million since April 1, 2022.
“Survivors want answers within their lifetime,” said Arndt. “When the promise of funding gets tied up in the bureaucracy of CIRNAC it sets communities up for failure. If the government is looking to restore its relationship with Indigenous people, then its actions need to align with its promises to Survivors.”
The work of the Secretariat is focused on four key areas: Ground Search, Archival Research, Advocacy and Commemoration.
In the last year, more than $1 million has been spent on archival research alone. Through these efforts, the Secretariat has recorded an additional 50 children who died while attending the Mohawk Institute in addition to the 47 names already listed on the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation’s (NCTR) website.
The secretariat says archival research is an important piece of the investigation as it will help to identify priority ground search areas.
Over 12,000 relevant files have been tagged for review from over 20 institutions to date, however the Secretariat says it believes this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Around 60 per cent of these files have been reviewed and organized for future access by Survivors, their communities, and their families.
This past year, the Secretariat completed 1.5 percent of ground search work using three Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) machines. The Secretariat is now working with a team of experts in geophysics to scope out the best possible path forward using the tools and technologies that currently exist to find unmarked burials.
“These activities take resources and the Secretariat has been urging the federal government to flow approved funding for the past six months,” the Secretariat said in a press release.
The Survivors’ Secretariat is one of 80+ organizations that have been approved for federal funding to begin the work of uncovering, documenting and sharing the truth about what happened at one of the 139 former Indian Residential Schools in Canada.
“It is unacceptable because many of our Survivors have already passed on and we will lose many more before we complete the work,” said Arndt. “Survivors deserve answers in their lifetimes. It has been almost 10 years since the TRC’s Calls to Action for Reconciliation and we are still fighting at every stage of the process.”
The Secretariat says it is worried that the delay in funding is not limited to just their organization and they believe many other community organizations are receiving the same delays.
“We are not politicians, we are Survivors, who are trying to keep the lives of the children central in this search. This has been made more difficult than it needs to be through the holding back of promised funding. The children deserve to be found and have their story told.” The Survivors’ Secretariat is a Survivor-led initiative established in 2021 to coordinate protocols and processes associated with the Mohawk Institute death investigation and facilitates the gathering of community and Survivor statements as they work to document and share the truth about what happened at the Mohawk Institute during its 136 years of operation.