The Canadian government has announced $27 million funding to assist indigenous communities to locate more Indigenous children who died at residential schools in the country.
At a press conference here on Wednesday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government earmarked some $33 million in its 2019 budget to implement the burial-related recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reports Xinhua news agency.
Little of that money has been spent so far, with $27 million still available to help Indigenous communities find and commemorate lost children.
Bennett said the money will be distributed on an urgent basis in partnership with Canada’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and Indigenous communities.
Last week, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in Kamloops city announced that it had discovered the remains of 215 children buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Following the discovery, Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors, and opposition parties have called for the government to fund the research and excavation of all sites of former residential schools for unmarked graves in the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier pledged his government’s support to help in preserving gravesites and uncovering potentially more unmarked burial grounds at other former residential schools.
But he stressed the need for Indigenous communities to decide for themselves how they want to proceed.
The UN Human Rights Office urged Canada on Wednesday to do all it can to find the Indigenous children that died at residential schools, calling for an “exhaustive investigation” to uncover the remains of former students that may have been left in unmarked graves.
Marta Hurtado, a spokesperson for the UN body, said the Canadian government must “redouble its efforts to find the whereabouts of missing children” in the wake of a preliminary investigation at the former Kamloops Residential School that revealed 215 children were buried on the grounds.
“Remains should be identified and forensic studies carried out to ensure proper identification of remains. Without this, healing is not possible,” Hurtado said in a statement.
The UN said the shocking and painful Kamloops discovery should inspire Canada to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, which included a section on missing children and burial information.
In their landmark 2015 report, the Commission called for the establishment of a student death registry and an online registry of residential school cemeteries, among other recommendations to help communities document lost loved ones.
Hurtado said Canada must improve its residential school-related record-keeping to give families and Indigenous communities better access to documents relating to missing and deceased family members.
In 2015, the final report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools concluded that what happened constituted a cultural genocide.
The comprehensive and extensive findings detail the inhumane mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children who were taken from their families and sent to one of the more than 130 institutions across the country.
The last school closed in 1996.
The commission’s register of confirmed deaths identified 3,200 students but work is still ongoing to uncover what are believed to be thousands more deaths that went undocumented.