'A call for justice': Indigenous communities welcome provincial funding to search residential school sites
BRANTFORD -- There is cautious optimism amongst the local Indigenous community following Ontario's announcement of funding to identify and commemorate burial sites at former residential schools.
But there are still unanswered questions, along with skepticism from some in the First Nations community who have seen government promises go unfulfilled before.
"The rollout? I'm actually looking to get further clarification on that as well. I don’t know specifically how they plan to roll that out to each of the communities," said Six Nations of the Grand River Chief Mark Hill.
On Tuesday, the Ontario government unveiled a $10 million action plan to identify and commemorate unmarked burial sites at former residential schools across the province.
Over the next three years, the government says it will work with Indigenous leaders to develop a process for identifying these sites, of which there are believed to be at least 12.
The announcement follows a discovery last month of the remains of 215 children buried in unmarked graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
With roughly 350 acres of land at the former Mohawk Institute in Brantford, a search for potential unmarked graves would be a tall task.
"There were two farms that surrounded the institute, that's been a floating story for many years, we need to locate exactly where those farms are and where that location would be today," Hill said.
Kahehti-Io Longboat of Mohawk Nation welcomed the funding announcement. Her father and siblings attended the former Mohawk Institute.
"I think it's good, but it has to be acted upon, there has to be action," she said.
Longboat said one of her father's lasting memories was how hungry he was while at the institution and sneaking out to the nearby orchard at night.
"He would find an apple, he said, 'I didn't care if it was half-rotten, but it kept me alive,' and so, that orchard, I felt bad when they cut it down because it was what kept my father alive," she said.
The site of the former Mohawk Institute is now operated by the Woodland Cultural Centre.
The centre's executive director says they're awaiting further direction from the province on the next steps.
"We're still waiting for word from the federal government, but it was good that they were able to say this plan is moving forward immediately, which I think is necessary for our communities," said Janice Monture.
Chief Hill says with 18 former residential school sites in the province, Ontario's three-year commitment will be spread thin.
But he's still hopeful it's a first step toward reconciliation for his community.
On June 1, Hill issued an open letter to the Prime Minister requesting equipment and support for a search of the grounds at the former Mohawk Institute but says he has yet to hear back.
"At this point, we can't go to say our thoughts and prayers are with the families," Hill said. "As much as, yes, that's important, and we'll look to that one day, but here today what we're calling upon is justice. A call for justice."
With files from CTV Toronto.