WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
The Alberta government says it will fund a program to uncover burial sites at former residential schools.
Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson said in a statement Monday that the government intends to fund research “into the undocumented deaths and burials of hundreds of Indigenous children who did not make their way home.”
The details on that funding will be announced in the coming days, according to the statement.
In an emotional address to reporters earlier Monday, Wilson said the UCP government was committing to funding the research.
“I grew up in the middle of the reservation by Pigeon Lake and a lot of my friends went to residential school, so we spent a lot of the weekend soul searching and praying,” said Wilson, who wore an orange shirt to symbolize the suffering of Indigenous residential school children who were taken away from their families and communities.
“I can’t imagine my kids being taken from my arms and taken off to residential school and then not returning. It’s a dark part of our history that’s for sure.”
The announcement comes after the remains of 215 children were found last week at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
“This discovery, I think, prompts all of us to see whether there are things that have been left undone, particularly with respect to unknown graves or unmarked graves,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in the legislature Monday.
At least 4,100 children died while attending Canada’s residential schools. At least 821 of those deaths occurred in Alberta.
The premier said he has directed the Minister of Indigenous Affairs to work with the Minister of Service Alberta to ensure full implementation of the relevant calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the provision of vital statistics.
In a letter written to Kenney Monday before the funding announcement, Opposition leader Rachel Notley highlighted several recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation around residential school gravesites.
The letter urges the government to allocate sufficient resources for the National Residential School Student Death Registry. It also advocates for records of deaths of Indigenous children to be made available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The letter also calls for the development of procedures for ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance and commemoration of residential school cemeteries.
Notley said the process must be guided by the wishes of survivors, their families and communities.
“We must be mindful of the trauma already endured through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process,” she told reporters prior to the debate. “But where there is a desire to investigate these sites, the government must stand ready with the resources for those to take place.”
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
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