WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
The elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River says plans of a ground search at the former Mohawk Institute Residential School will be announced in the coming days.
It will be the start of a solemn journey “in the hopes of recovering all of our children,” Mark Hill told reporters in Brantford, Ont., on Monday afternoon.
“We’re hoping to start the search as soon as possible … we need to find all of them,” he said, with more than 100 shoes and toys spread out behind him on the stairs of the former residential school.
Hill said the initiative will be survivor-led and a group is being formed to determine how to search the grounds.
He said work is underway to get funding from the federal and provincial governments, adding the initial ask was for $10 million.
Hill and survivors have been asking for a search at the site, in an effort to determine if it too is the location of unmarked graves, as have been discovered in other parts of Canada.
It all started in May, with the discovery of grave sites near a former school in Kamloops, B.C. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said preliminary findings from a survey of the site by ground-penetrating radar, combined with previous knowledge and oral history, indicated 215 children had been buried at the site.
John Elliott, 84, said he was 10 years old when he entered the Mohawk Institute Residential School.
He was known as No. 72.
“The first day they brought us here, we ran away, me and my brother,” he said.
Every Christmas, he and his brother would run back home to Six Nations.
Do you have information about residential schools? Email your tips to WhereAreThey@cbc.ca.
Elliott said searching the grounds is a “great idea.”
“I think there’s a few boys around here.”
The Mohawk Institute opened in 1828 as a day school for boys from the reserve before it started accepting boarders and girls in 1834.
“The intent was … to change us, to make us someone other than who we are,” Hill said.
He said the school closed in 1970, making it one of the oldest and longest running residential schools in Canada.
Two years later, the Woodland Cultural Centre opened in the school building. It serves as a museum and provides education about the Mohawk Institute’s history.
Dawn and Roberta Hill, sisters who survived the school, have been part of the planning to search the grounds.
They hope the nothing will be found, but still think the search is needed.
Roberta said she’s optimistic, but won’t believe the search is happening until she sees it.
“Until there’s a cheque in hand, I don’t trust anybody,” she said.
“But I think … it would look pretty bad if they did back out. The whole community wants this to be done.”
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: WhereAreThey@cbc.ca.