Ontario is in the process of releasing death records of approximately 1,800 Indigenous children to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
Releasing death records was one of the recommendations in the 2015 report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that documented abuse suffered by Indigenous children at residential schools.
The centre said it welcomed the Ontario government's commitment to release the records and called on other provinces to do the same.
"These death records are essential to finding and identifying all the children who died due to the residential school system," it said in a written statement. "Although some provinces are actively working to share important records, the NCTR requires full co-operation from all jurisdictions."
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is tasked with maintaining records like survivors' testimonies and other materials gathered through the commission.
The centre said it is still waiting on coroner's reports from all provinces -- another recommendation from the commission -- but has received all death certificates from British Columbia and Alberta and some records from Yukon and Nova Scotia.
A spokeswoman for the Office of Ontario’s Registrar General said the province began gathering and archiving the records after the commission's report was released.
"The release of these records will be an important step as we strive to make real and meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples across the province," Ellen Samek said in an email.
Service Ontario has records of deaths that occurred over the past 70 years that were registered with the provincial government, the province said.
It said the search to find death registrations of student-aged Indigenous children began at the end of 2016 and it was determined that the approximately 1,800 records should be released.
The province said digital copies of the records will be transferred to the centre once an agreement authorizing their release is finalized.
The centre for Truth and Reconciliation said it faces challenges analyzing the material as record-keeping processes vary between governments and some death certificates may not say whether a child attended a residential school. It also noted that a child's Indigenous name is "rarely found" on their death record.
A National Student Memorial currently names 4,127 children who did not return from residential schools. The centre said death records and coroner's reports are crucial to documenting the stories of other lost children.
"There are potentially thousands more, yet; however, we cannot confirm and honour these lost children without the outstanding records currently still in the hands of the various levels of government," the statement said.
Earlier this year, the Ontario government committed $10 million to search for burial sites at residential schools following the discovery of what are believed to be the remains of Indigenous children near other residential schools around Canada.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario and the province has said there are likely more.
It reported the known deaths of 426 children who attended schools in Ontario and an unknown number of children still missing.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press