An unmarked burial of a youth under the age of 14 was found last year near the grounds of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont. The discovery is now being reviewed to determine if it may be associated with the Mohawk Institute.
Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer is investigating the discovery and a police task force made up of OPP, Six Nations Police and Brantford Police have been made aware of it as well. The newly created task force charged with investigating the deaths of children at the Mohawk Institute has received its first case.
Ontario’s coroners are physicians with specialized training in the principles of death investigation. According to the Ontario government, coroners provide high-quality death investigations and inquests to ensure that no death will be overlooked, concealed or ignored. The findings are then used to generate recommendations to help improve public safety and prevent deaths in similar circumstances. The Office of the Chief Coroner works closely with the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service to ensure a co-ordinated and collaborative approach to death investigation in the public interest.
“This is a child that has been found. A full and proper death investigation is required to determine who this child is and how they came to be buried in this location. This child deserves respect; they need a name and we need to remember they were a child and their family needs to know what happened,” said Roberta Hill, Survivor of the Mohawk Institute.
Given the close proximity of the burial to the lands known to be used by the Mohawk Institute and the receipt of a new report suggesting the person was an adolescent at the time of their death, this matter has been transferred to the task force looking into the deaths of children at the former residential school. The task force includes both police service membership and representatives from Ontario’s death investigation system. This decision was made in close consultation with Survivors and the Survivors’ Secretariat.
The Survivors’ Secretariat is a Survivor-led initiative established in 2021. The Secretariat co-ordinates protocols and processes associated with death investigations 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. The police task force was created in 2021 to investigate the deaths of children who died while attending the Mohawk Institute; its work is overseen by the Survivors’ Secretariat.
“The Office of the Chief Coroner is working with experts currently engaged with the burial site in Brantford and will apply a principled, respectful and thorough investigation to try to find answers regarding who this young person is, why and how they came to be at this site,” said Huyer.
The Mohawk Institute Residential School was a Canadian Indian residential school in Brantford. The school was the first and longest-running residential school in Canada, with children from more than 20 First Nations at the facility over 136 years. It operated from 1831 to June 27, 1970. Before 1885, the Anglican Church of Canada operated a school and residential school in the same location.
“We must honour and respect the spirit of this child so this move to a death and potential criminal investigation through the coroner’s office and the task force is very important,” said Dr. Beverly Jacobs, Indigenous human rights monitor at the secretariat. “The human rights violations that have occurred to residential school children must give rise to reparations and justice. This first investigation is just the beginning.”
Part of the remains were discovered by a utilities company on Aug.5, 2020. The remains were sent for anthropological study at the University of Arizona, which used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the remains. A recent report suggests the child was 11 to 14 years old at the time of death. Due to the discovery’s proximity to lands that were known to be used by the Mohawk Institute, the matter was turned over to the task force.
The task force was created during the summer and has been planning to map the land of the former Brantford residential school and to prepare to use ground-penetrating radar to search for more possible unmarked graves.
Jacobs said at this time, it is unsure if the youth attended the former Mohawk Residential School or not.
The following resources are available for those in need of emotional support:
Hope for Wellness Help Line offers immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous peoples across Canada. Experienced helpline counsellors, many of whom are Indigenous, can find wellness supports available in your area. You can reach this helpline at: 1-855-242-3310 toll-free, 24/7.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.
The Indigenous Victim Services at Six Nations Line (1-866-964-5920). After hours and weekends: 1-866-445-2204. Help is available to people living in Brantford, Hamilton or the Six Nations community.