A child stands in front of rows of teddy bears left on the Victoria legislature steps.

Photo Credit: Darren Stone | Times Colonist

Residential School Sites Should Be Treated As Crime Scenes

Children died, where are the investigations?

No school should have a graveyard

In 2021, the federal government launched a new fund with a very dull name. It’s the Residential Schools Missing Children Community Support Fund.

The fund is to help Indigenous communities find the bodies of children who never made it home from residential schools.

Yes, that’s right. The program to help Indigenous people locate the bodies of their dead relatives is called a “community support” fund.

Do Indigenous communities need support? Absolutely yes.

But to call this fund “community support” is insulting. It’s bland Canadian speak to make us all feel better about the crime against Indigenous people. It’s the biggest, most widespread crime in Canadian history.

And residential school sites are evidence of that crime.

To make matters worse, according to CBC, Indigenous communities have requested around $200 million from the fund. The requests are for things like ground-penetrating radar and commemorations for lost children.

And the federal government has granted about $89 million.

Imagine the outrage if we found a graveyard at Cahiri Secondary School in Campbell River? Or Maquinna Elementary in Port Alberni?

Can you imagine how much people would freak out if their kids started going missing from Cumberland Community School?

Folks would lose their minds. And they would be right to do so.

Now, Indigenous communities want to find their lost children. They want to find the cousins, siblings, aunts, and uncles who never made it home. They want to find the children they knew were missing, because they’ve known all along that some kids never came back.

Even people who worked at residential schools knew kids were going missing. Dr. Peter H. Bryce spent decades warning the federal government that children were dying in their schools after working in some in 1904.

That means the federal government ignored the warnings for more than 100 years.

And instead of treating these school sites as crime scenes, they’ve created a “community support” fund. And they barely fund it.

That’s a big failure. It’s an institutional and moral failure. And it’s shocking for a country like Canada that prides itself on respect for human rights.

Should Indigenous communities be leading these investigations? Yes.

Finding dead relatives is already traumatizing. It would be worse if the investigations were led by folks who didn’t understand how these crimes affected people and their culture.

The least we can do is pay for the investigations. We have spent more than a century pulling billions of dollars out of their lands; the least we can do is fund the needed investigation to find the truth about the deaths that occurred.

And we should also pony up the human resources needed to charge those responsible for their crimes.

Wearing orange shirts on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a wonderful gesture. But if we truly want truth and reconciliation, we must face Canada’s criminal history.

Part of that means funding the folks who are searching for the relatives we let die.