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Investigation at former Mohawk Institute in Brantford shifts from criminal to coroner-led


It’s been about a year and a half since the investigation began into what happened at a former residential school in Brantford, Ont., and now the focus is shifting from criminal to coroner-led.

The Mohawk Institute Residential School is considered to be Canada’s longest-running residential school. It was in operation from 1828 until 1970.

The goal of the search for unmarked graves is to help bring survivors one step closer to reconciliation.

The group, the Survivors’ Secretariat, said a coroner-led investigation will change the focus from placing the blame on individuals to creating opportunities for closure.

“A coroner investigation differs as its focus is on the victim, rather than the culprit,” the group said in a media release.

The group is hoping that this change will mean they will have more access to data uncovered with more resource sharing amongst the investigators and archival researchers.


The investigation in Brantford was launched shortly after hundreds of suspected unmarked graves were found at former residential schools in B.C.

In October 2021, a task force could be seen getting trained on the equipment. Ground penetrating radar was used at Chiefswood Park in Oshweken.

“It’s like a fish finder but for the earth,” said Arnold Jacobs with Six Nations Police, at the time.

The official search started a month later at the site of the former Mohawk Institute, now known as the Woodland Cultural Centre.

Members of the Six Nations Police conduct a search for unmarked graves using ground-penetrating radar on the 500 acres of the lands associated with the former Indian Residential School, the Mohawk Institute, in Brantford, Ont., Tuesday, November 9, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn)

In January 2022, the federal government committed to providing the team leading the ground search with $10 million over three years.

Last September, the survivors’ group said through records a total of 97 deaths were tied to the former Mohawk Institute.

The toll is more than double what the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation initially reported.

“I think we can safely anticipate that we're going to continue to hear and see in the records that children died,” Laura Arndt lead of the Survivors’ Secretariat said last fall.


Ontario’s Chief Coroner, Dirk Huyer, said their office has been working with Six Nations Police, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Brantford Police and the Survivors’ Secretariat since the beginning.

“The police had been leading the investigation,” he said. “The police are drawing their work to a close, and we’re continuing the work we’ve been doing to answer as many questions we can about the children that died.”

Huyer said their office will continue to work with the survivors group.

“To investigate the circumstances of death for any child that may have died,” Huyer said. “Our role as the coroner is to answer questions about who died, where they died, when they might have died, the medical cause and then where they might be buried.”

(Dan Lauckner/CTV Kitchener)


Huyer said the work they’re doing is important.

“Without understanding what occurred, it really impacts the ability to move forward from the trauma and the loss that occurred from the residential school system. So I believe this is a fundamental importance to many, specifically those in Indigenous communities,” Huyer said.

Huyer said it is unclear how long the rest of investigation will take and was unable to provide CTV News with a timeline.

But the survivors group said they expect answers soon.

“We look forward to the receipt of their final report, which is anticipated in the fall of 2023,” Arndt said. Top Stories

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