WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
Alberta will provide $8 million to support community-led research into undocumented deaths and burials at residential schools, Premier Jason Kenney announced Wednesday.
Grant money will be made available to Indigenous communities and organizations to do research, use ground-penetrating radar to explore potential unmarked burial sites, and do maintenance and commemorative work such as the installation or restoration of grave markers and memorials.
Communities and organizations can submit a research proposal for a single residential school site under the Residential Schools Community Research Grant program.
Individual applications can receive up to a maximum of $150,000. For joint submissions, there is no funding cap. Applications are now available and will be accepted until Jan. 15, 2022.
Alberta’s decision to fund research follows the discovery last month of a burial site adjacent to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.’s southern Interior.
Preliminary findings from a survey using ground-penetrating radar suggest the site contains the remains of 215 children, according to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
“The discovery of the 215 remains of students at the former Kamloops residential school has shaken our nation and called all of us to reflect on the wickedness of the Indian residential school system which existed in this country for a century,” Kenney told a news conference in Edmonton.
“Of the more than 100,000 young Aboriginal children who were taken away from their parents, stolen from their families by the state, and then often faced terrible living conditions, sometimes dangerous living conditions, and sometimes faced efforts by the authorities to literally beat their language and culture out of them.
“The horrendousness of that system is hard for us today to comprehend, and we have now been reminded that uh there have been many of those students who were buried in unmarked graves or graves that have been lost, and we’ve been reminded that we have a moral obligation to find them, to recover their memory, to honour those sites and their lives.”
Chief Billy Morin of the Enoch Cree Nation, located just west of Edmonton, said the grant program will help to address the history of “abuse and wrongfulness” Indigenous people have suffered in Canada.
“With this announcement today, that story never ends,” Morin said. “It keeps going, and those open wounds are very much open at this time with Kamloops and things that are going around the country right now.”
The Kamloops discovery sparked a national outcry.
In its wake, there have been repeated calls for provinces to pay for search efforts at former residential school sites.
On Monday, National Indigenous People’s Day, Manitoba announced it will spend $2.5 million on investigating burial sites at former residential schools across the province.
Last week, Saskatchewan committed to spending $2 million to search residential school sites for unmarked graves. The province and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, called on Ottawa to match the provincial funding.
The Ontario government last week pledged $10 million to identify and commemorate residential school burial sites. The money will be spent over three years to identify, investigate and memorialize residential school burial sites in the province, with the help of Indigenous leaders, elders and residential school survivors.
In its 2019 budget, the federal government earmarked $33 million to implement burial-related recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said $27 million of that funding is still available to help Indigenous communities find and commemorate lost children.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.