'We need to find the children': Survivors of former residential school in Brantford, Ont. call for criminal investigation into unmarked graves
KITCHENER -- Survivors of a former residential school site in Brantford, Ont. are calling for a criminal investigation into unmarked graves on the property.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Six Nations Chief Mark Hill said there are 54 deaths recorded at the former Mohawk Institute.
"What we don’t know is where those little bodies are buried," he said.
Mark added the school sits on nearly 500 acres of property.
"We know that every last acre needs to be searched," he said.
Mark added they believe there is enough evidence to launch a criminal investigation into the deaths and the First Nation supports creating a multi-jurisdictional police task force to search for graves.
"We have just witnessed survivors making an official request to our police and we know that this is enough to trigger a criminal investigation," he said. "Proceeding in this way, we want to ensure that there is justice and accountability right from the beginning."
He said the process needs to be led by survivors and trauma-informed.
Dawn Hill, a survivor of the Mohawk Institute, spoke at Wednesday's press conference where she read a letter on behalf of survivors directed to police calling for an official criminal investigation.
She explained that during the 1980s, while work was being done at the former Mohawk Institute, the bones of a child, likely either hip or shoulder, were discovered on the grounds and later reburied.
"The police and the coroner were involved but it does not appear that the matter was fully investigated," Dawn said.
She said the children's deaths were not properly reported or were covered up by staff.
"We need answers and we need to find the children," Dawn said.
Six Nations also announced $1 million in funding to create a survivor secretariat to begin work on searching the school's grounds.
"Survivors are saying to move now," Mark said. "This is a criminal investigation and our goal is to search for justice. Every child truly matters in this country."
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll free line at 1-800-721-0066.
A list of Indigenous mental health resources can be accessed here.