Mohawk Institute residential school survivors request coroner investigation
The criminal investigation into the deaths at the Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford, Ont., has become a coroner's investigation, at the request of survivors from the school.
The investigation was launched in late July 2022, after Mohawk Institute survivors and Six Nations Chief Mark Hill called for the entire site, which is now the Woodland Cultural Centre, to be scanned as part of a criminal investigation.
A multi-jurisdictional task force was created with Six Nations police, Brantford police and Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to investigate the deaths.
Laura Arndt leads the Mohawk Institute survivor advocacy group Survivor's Secretariat. She said the investigation has found there is no one alive to be criminally charged with the deaths at the school.
She said the decision to switch gears from a criminal investigation to a coroner's investigation was made by the Secretariat's board of Mohawk Institute survivors.
"The reality of moving to a coroner's investigation is now the coroner can step in and their approach is really looking into who died, how they died, when they died and when and where they're buried," she said.
She said the goal of the investigation is to "create the path of the lived experiences of children who went into the Mohawk Institute but did not return home."
While the task force is winding down, media representative for the Haldimand OPP, Bill Dickson said the work isn't done.
"The investigation is continuing, as officers continue to review a large volume of information that has been collected. The joint investigative team will keep working until they reach the conclusion of the investigative findings."
Arndt, who is the child of a Mohawk Institute survivor, said there is urgency to complete the project so elderly survivors can receive answers about what happened at the residential school in their lifetime.
"Look at the age of survivors. They are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, and every day what I hear them saying to me when we talk about these investigations — just the fact that 'I wanted to answer before I die.'"
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.