The final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada had a section on missing children and unmarked burials, 273 pages in length.
It states: “Many, if not most, of several thousand children who died in residential schools are likely to be buried in unmarked and untended graves. Subjected to institutionalized neglect in life, they have been dishonoured in death. Many aboriginal people have unanswered questions about what happened to their children or relatives while they were attending residential school.”
The Commission identified 3,200 confirmed deaths of named and unnamed residential school students. The death toll, however, is believed to be much higher. Of those registered deaths, 580 were linked to British Columbia.
(The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba has now confirmed 4,100 deaths nationwide and has on its website a list of the names of 52 children who died while at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The list of deaths range in dates from 1900 to 1971 and are part of the centre’s Missing Children Project. The children’s names are not accompanied by their ages.)
For about half of the deaths, the government and schools did not record a cause of death. Tuberculosis was the leading known cause, with the other two major causes of death being influenza and pneumonia.
The Commission also highlighted physical and sexual abuse that occurred in the schools. According to the report, students who died at school were rarely sent home unless their parents could afford transportation. In addition, the Department of Indian Affairs was opposed, for reasons related to cost, to shipping the bodies of deceased children to their home communities. Locations of some residential school cemeteries are known, while others are unknown, and the report states the value of local information in the process of identifying residential school cemeteries and burial grounds “cannot be overstated.”
Also part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report were 94 calls to action, including a section on missing children and burial information. They include:
• No. 71. We call upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation;
• No. 72. We call upon the federal government to allocate sufficient resources to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada;
• No. 73. We call upon the federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children;
• No. 74. We call upon the federal government to work with the churches and Aboriginal community leaders to inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child’s burial location, and to respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home communities where requested;
• No. 75. We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of Calls to Action| 9 appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children;
• No. 76. We call upon the parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies in accordance with the following principles: i. The Aboriginal community most affected shall lead the development of such strategies. ii. Information shall be sought from residential school Survivors and other Knowledge Keepers in the development of such strategies. iii. Aboriginal protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site;
CBC’s project, Beyond 94, tracks progress of the TRC’s calls to action. Most of the aforementioned calls are listed as “in progress with projects proposed,” while one (No. 72) is listed as in progress with projects underway. One (No. 75) is among 22 calls to action not yet started.
“The federal government has not developed or implemented strategies and procedures for the ongoing protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children are buried,” stated CBC’s summary.
Read Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials as part of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada online here.