Powassan council is calling on the federal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to implement all the recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including looking for the unmarked graves of Indigenous children who attended residential schools.
A resolutionfrom Powassan council in the wake of last week's discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children at what was Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school was introduced as an addendum at the request of Mayor Peter McIsaac. Media reports say some of the bodies discovered by ground-penetrating radar in Kamloops, B.C., were those of three-year-old children. McIsaac told council he's read that the cost to find the unmarked graves is $1.5 million. “That's peanuts, that's nothing,” said McIsaac. McIsaac said it was “not acceptable” that it's been years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission put forward its recommendations and all that's happened in the ensuing years is just talk. “We need action and we need to hold our federal government's feet to the fire,” McIsaac said. “No more talk. We need to get this done.” In addition to calling on the federal government to find the unmarked graves, the Powassan resolution also wants every Canadian province and territory to teach the history of Canada's role in residential schools by adding the subject matter to their respective school curricula. To that end, council is sending copies of its resolution to every provincial and territorial education minister. The hope is that by talking about the residential schools, Canadians will become more aware of that history. The resolution contains background information on how the Canadian government and religious organizations operated the residential schools throughout Canada from the 1870s to 1996 and that during this period more than 150,000 Indigenous children attended the schools. The resolution also states former residential school sites across Canada contain unmarked graves of Indigenous children and that the federal government is aware of this. Council is also sending copies of its resolution to Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. According to its website, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, has confirmed the names of 4,117 Indigenous children who were in a residential school and died. However, the NRTC says record keeping at residential schools was nowhere near the standards that exist today and record keeping was not consistent. The Roman Catholic Church operated the former Kamloops residential school where the bodies were found from 1890 to 1969. In 1969 the federal government took over the facility and operated it as a day school until it was closed in 1976. Although not related to the residential school issue, there was a suggestion at Tuesday's meeting that Powassan council may prepare a future resolution to shed light on a health issue First Nations people on reserves have endured for decades. “Drinking water would be next,” McIsaac said, a reference to the fact that drinking water standards on First Nations is inferior to water quality standards enjoyed in the rest of Canada.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget