The N.W.T.'s chief coroner says it will take more work and some cooperation between different agencies to get a fuller picture of how many children died at residential schools in the territory.
An interim report by the Senate standing committee on Indigenous peoples released this summer says the Northwest Territories government still has work to do when it comes to meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) calls to action — specifically number 71, which calls on the chief coroner's office to release any death records of children who died at residential schools to the national TRC website.
In the N.W.T., that hasn't happened.
"In short, we thought we had," Garth Eggenberger, the territory's chief coroner, told CBC's The Trailbreaker on Tuesday.
"We didn't, and so we're in the process of rectifying that."
Eggenberger was called to the Senate committee in late September to explain why those records haven't been fully released.
"Before we were asked to come to the Senate committee, we'd already started working off of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation," he said.
"Their website lists a whole bunch of people and we started going through that and we realized that we hadn't accounted for all the deaths."
Part of the problem is that the N.W.T. data only goes back to 1967, as records from the decades before that were kept in Ottawa. Eggenberger says they didn't get all of that information when the handover happened.
Also, at the beginning of compiling the data, he says they discovered it was not very straightforward — even with the incomplete data, as some records were handwritten. The coroner's office also may not have been alerted to those who died from illnesses, such as tuberculosis, as they only deal with sudden and unexpected deaths.
Pre-1967 data needed
"They just called for us to list all the people that we thought died from residential school. And so we really didn't have any other way of comparing to the schools, so we just took people from ages zero to 18 years in the communities where the residential schools were," said Eggenberger.
"And then we pulled the records on those people and then compared it and looked at the coroner report, or what little information we had of the coroner's report, and then compared them and made sure that they met that sort of criteria — and that's the similar criteria that Ontario used."
At that time, he says they found five deaths — but found one more on the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website. All of those names were submitted, but they didn't hear anything back.
Another challenge is the lack of staff to help. Eggenberger says a dedicated researcher would go a long way.
"Going forward we're going to try and do a little better job of it and it's going to take some work and co-operation between the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the federal government and even the churches," he said about finding records before 1967.
"At this point, one of the churches has reached out to me and they're willing to share the record. So we're very fortunate that they're willing to do that and I think it'll make our job much easier."
His office needs the name and date of death to help classify things.
"So if we don't have a name, we're shooting blind," he said.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.