First Nation to Search for Anonymous Graves at Former London Area Residential School


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A London-area First Nation will begin searching this fall for anonymous graves on the grounds of a former residential school that operated for nearly a century.

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The Chippewa of the Thames First Nation southwest of London on Thursday announced the launch of an investigation into possible unmarked burial grounds at the former Mount Elgin Industrial Residential School.

“This investigation is really about the (children) who are associated with the residential school here in Chippewa,” said Kelly Riley, Director of Treaties, Lands and Environment for the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, in a video feed. direct, part of the annual First Nation Orange Shirt Day event on Thursday.

A barn used to house horses and hay is the only remaining building of the former Mount Elgin Industrial Residential School that operated for almost 100 years on the Chippewa on Thames First Nation.  On the walls of this barn are scrawled notes of children who lived and worked there.  This note says: LEW LB was here on July 29, 1926 and working like hell.  (DEREK RUTTAN / The London Free Press)
A barn used to house horses and hay is the only remaining building of the former Mount Elgin Industrial Residential School that operated for almost 100 years on the Chippewa on Thames First Nation. On the walls of this barn are scrawled notes of children who lived and worked there. This note says: LEW LB was here on July 29, 1926 and working like hell. (DEREK RUTTAN / The London Free Press)

Mount Elgin Industrial Residential School was founded in 1849 and opened in 1850 with 13 students. More than 1,200 children attended the school before it closed in 1946. It then functioned as a day school after 1967. At least five children are known to have died at the residential school.

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“A total of 21 First Nations had children attending this residential school,” said Riley. “The 21 includes the Chippewas of the Thames. So we’re reaching out to the 20 First Nations in and around southwestern Ontario who (children) attended this school.

The investigation will be led by local First Nations and will last between three and five years. Discussions are also underway to involve professionals from the fields of archeology, anthropology and pathology.

A file photo shows the site of the former Mount Elgin Industrial Residential School on what is now the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation.
A file photo shows the site of the former Mount Elgin Industrial Residential School on what is now the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation.

Starting in the fall, a team will complete drone work to collect aerial footage of “potential locations around the residential school” and field walks in some areas suspected of having burials, Riley said.

The investigation will take place in stages, including research and a process known as a ground check that uses ground penetrating radar to scan the grounds of the former residential school, he said.

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“If the research indicates that there are unmarked burial sites associated with the residential school, we will have access to modern technology to try to determine if there are any remains in the ground,” Riley said.

The announcement was made on National Truth and Reconciliation Day, a new national holiday designated by the federal government in response to one of the Truth Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and reconciliation which examined the residential school system that separated Indigenous children from their families in an attempt to assimilate them.

It also comes after a summer in which what are believed to be thousands of unmarked graves were detected with ground-penetrating radar at several former residential school sites across Canada.

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“I think it’s premature to talk about unmarked burial grounds in Chippewas of the Thames. It might be premature, but it’s safe to plan, ”Riley said.

Thursday marked the fifth annual Community Orange Shirt Day in honor of residential school survivors. The virtual event included percussion performances and presentations of the history of the former boarding school and its monuments.

Jacqueline French, Chief of the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, was also in attendance.

“In its heyday, Mount Elgin was home to 160 students at a time and was a heart-wrenching destination for many Indigenous children who were forced to attend from across the country. Fortunately, this institution, which called itself a school, is now closed, ”French said.

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She added, “As we walk this path of truth together, we must recognize that true healing for our communities can only happen after the issue of unmarked burial grounds has been resolved.”

On Thursday, the First Nation launched its Save the Barn campaign, an initiative dedicated to the preservation of the last remaining room of the former residential school. Forced to work hard on the school farm, some children who attended school left poignant and painful memories of their experiences scribbled on the barn walls.

Donations for the campaign can be made directly to the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

In addition to Mount Elgin School, southwestern Ontario was also home to the Mohawk Institute Boarding School near Brantford. The government-run and church-run residential school operated between 1830 and 1996. Over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children attended the 139 confirmed residential schools in Canada.

Crisis support for survivors and others affected by residential schools is available through a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-925-4419.

[email protected]

– The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

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