Ground search in northern Quebec could raise 'very difficult emotions' as $225k announced for project

·3 min read
Cree Nation Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty pictured in an April file photo. ( CBC/Olivia Stefanovich - image credit)
Cree Nation Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty pictured in an April file photo. ( CBC/Olivia Stefanovich - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details related to residential schools and their survivors.

The federal government is putting up $225,655 for a ground search at the sites of former residential schools in Fort George, Eeyou Istchee, in northern Quebec.

The funds come from the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and were announced by Minister Marc Miller on Wednesday, according to a news release.

Chief Daisy House from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi and Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty of the Cree Nation Government were also part of the announcement.

"These activities will undoubtedly stir some very difficult emotions for families and friends of children who have not returned but also for survivors whose stories of their past that will be revived," said Gull-Masty.

"We are doing our part to move forward. Reconciliation is a two-way street that does not simply end after an apology. Meaningful actions to facilitate our healing journeys must come from all sides."

The funding is aimed to support the residential school response co-ordinator, who will conduct local research, facilitate engagement, and gather knowledge from survivors and their families, the release reads.

The money will also go toward a memorial, which is to be decided upon by survivors, their families, and community members.

Miller said the search initiative "exemplifies the strength and determination of the community."

"The Cree Nation of Chisasibi is undertaking a multi-level approach to discover the truth, and to advance healing in their community," said Miller.

"Our government is committed to supporting these initiatives so communities can continue to undertake this work the best way they see fit, and at their own pace."

More funds could be requested for technical services such as light detection and ranging — commonly known as LIDAR — ground penetrating radar (GPR), and historical photo analysis the release says.

Chisasibi had officially announced a month ago that the community would move forward with a ground search of five identified sites of former Anglican and Catholic residential schools.

The process could take two to three years due to the terrain at the sites, the release says.

Chief House said finding "lost children" on Fort George will be a monumental step in the nation's healing journey, especially when it comes to intergenerational trauma.

"Our reality as Eeyouch is that Fort George residential schools altered most of our lives," said House. "We have all heard stories from our relatives about the challenges of these schools, and we know there are children who never made it home."

'Eeyouch want answers'

In the release, the Cree Nation Government said it will keep supporting "the very delicate decision to search the grounds of the former Fort George residential schools," and ensuring there are support networks in place.

"Programs such as this one announced today are critical to the ongoing efforts," the release said.

Chief House has been trying to push churches to share their records. House said that only when those records are released can the community "truly talk about reconciliation."

"At this point, we are done asking. We demand for the release of all church records," said House.

"Eeyouch want answers. We want a clear picture of what happened. These heavily guarded archives hold so many missing pieces of our true history."

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