Survivors of an Ontario residential school are about to begin their search for unmarked graves and have hired legal counsel to ensure the true extent of the horrible acts become public.
Survivors of the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., are scheduled to begin using ground-penetrating radar in the coming weeks to examine the site for any potential unmarked graves on the property.
“I tend to think that, yes, there will be human remains of children,” Roberta Hill, a survivor of the Mohawk Institute, told CTV News.
The Mohawk Institute operated from 1828 to 1970, according to the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. It is among the oldest such facilities in Canada and is estimated to have housed as many as 30,000 children from across Ontario during its time in operation.
In recent years, there have been allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the facility.
“It was like a little mini prison,” Hill said.
“There was a lot of cruelty.”
Hill said she and her sister Dawn were forced to stay at the facility, beginning at the ages of six and seven. They were quickly separated and barred from seeing each other.
“The first thing they do, which is harmful, is they separate brothers and sisters,” she said.
While at the residential school, Hill heard rumors of children buried outside, near the apple trees.
“Whether it was through disease, whether it was through some brutality of some kind, it seemed that children could be expendable,” she said.
Hill and the other survivors hope that the ground-penetrating radar examination of the site will uncover how many children did not survive their time at the facility.
It’s the same technology used at the residential schools near Cowessess First Nation and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc to uncover the bodies of nearly 1,000 children combined this past summer.
The group has also created a Survivors’ Secretariat and hired a human rights monitor to ensure that the police investigations are handled properly.
“Canada’s gotten away with this for such a long time and whoever was responsible needs to be held accountable,” said Beverly Jacobs, the Indigenous human rights monitor for the Mohawk Institute Survivors’ Secretariat.
According to a news release from the Survivors’ Secretariat, Jacobs will “monitor, verify and report back to the survivors on the work of the Multi-Jurisdictional Police Task Force’s investigation.” Jacobs will also ensure that “integrity, fairness, transparency and accountability are upheld” throughout the police investigation.
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.