New documents reveal 43 more deaths at former Mohawk Institute, survivor-led group says

·2 min read
A drone shot of the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ont. It is the former Mohawk Institute Residential School. (Sue Reid/CBC - image credit)
A drone shot of the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ont. It is the former Mohawk Institute Residential School. (Sue Reid/CBC - image credit)

New documents related to the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., have revealed 43 more deaths, according to the survivor-led group overseeing the search for potential unmarked graves at the site.

The total number of student deaths, according to documents obtained so far, is 97. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation only lists 48 deaths, while previous updates from the secretariat have said there were 54 deaths.

"The impact and the legacy [of residential schools] is felt far beyond the boundaries of communities," Laura Arndt, the new executive lead for the Survivors' Secretariat, told community members at an invite-only event Wednesday.

Sherlene Bomberry, a residential school survivor and member of the secretariat, said the new documents came through a collaboration with Know History, a professional historical research firm.

The 97 students include people who died from illness or injury and those who ran away and died elsewhere according to Beth Sollis, a researcher with Know History.

The Mohawk Institute, one of the oldest and longest-running residential schools in Canada, opened in 1828 and closed in 1970. Some 15,000 students from 20 First Nation communities were at the school, many of whom were abused.

Sollis did not indicate when the deaths may have occurred.

"We've also identified 16 children [who died and] whose names are not known that we're working on hoping to identify and others where the location of their grave is not known," she said.

Over 12,000 records found

Bomberry said the secretariat is cross-referencing names to ensure there aren't duplicates.

She also said the group is working on a protocol to tell families and communities about the newly uncovered deaths before publishing them online.

Know History and the secretariat have worked together for nine months, which Sollis said has resulted in identifying 4,581 names of children who attended the institute and 725 names of people who worked at the Institute in some capacity.

Sollis said the team has found over 12,000 records relevant to the institute across 23 institutions. Over 6,700 of those have been reviewed and logged.

Survivors' Secretariat/Facebook
Survivors' Secretariat/Facebook

The search on the grounds where the Woodland Cultural Centre now stands began in November after Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation's preliminary search in Kamloops, B.C., last May detected around 200 potential graves.

The secretariat has secured $10.2 million from the federal government over three years and $1.3 million from the provincial government — both amounts are far below what the secretariat asked for and only represents about a third of the money the group says it needs to do the search.

The ground search will take years to complete.

To date about 1.5 per cent of the roughly 243 hectares has been searched.

Bomberry said the City of Brantford provided lidar scans of the grounds to help, which has allowed the secretariat to work with geophysicists who can help interpret the data.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.