Warning: This story contains details about the Mohawk Institute that may be upsetting. The Hope for Wellness Hotline can be reached 24 hours a day at 1-855-242-3310 or online at www.hopeforwellness.ca
Authorities are investigating after an unmarked burial site believed to be an adolescent grave was found in August 2020 near the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont.
A survivors’ secretariat founded in July said the site is being reviewed to determine if it can be linked to the institute. The group turned the case over to an investigative task force after a report suggested the remains belonged to a young person, according to a release.
“This is a child that has been found. A full and proper death investigation is required to determine who this child is and how they came to be buried in this location. This child deserves respect,” said institute survivor Roberta Hill. “They need a name and we need to remember they were a child and their family needs to know what happened.”
The secretariat was appointed to oversee the police task force investigating unmarked graves and child deaths. On July 28, Six Nations police said they would need help from provincial and municipal police forces due to the “scope and magnitude” of the probe.
Beverly Jacobs, associate dean at Windsor University’s faculty of law, was appointed to the secretariat as a human rights monitor in September.
“We must honour and respect the spirit of this child so this move to a death and potential criminal investigation through the coroner’s office and the Task Force is very important,” Jacobs said. “The human rights violations that have occurred to residential school children must give rise to reparations and justice. This first investigation is just the beginning.”
Chief coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer confirmed his office is working with experts at the burial site. He promised to conduct “a principled, respectful and thorough investigation to try to find answers regarding who this young person is, why and how they came to be at this site.”
The coroner’s office declined to comment further to protect the dignity of the dead and ensure the integrity of the investigation.
“We do know that the deceased is a youth, likely less than 14 years old,” said a spokesperson via email. “We do not know the sex of the deceased person or whether the person is Indigenous. We are hoping to determine this during the investigation to assist in identifying this young person.”
Calls to Six Nations police and Brantford police went unanswered Friday morning, while the Ontario Provincial Police referred APTN News to the coroner’s statement.
The Mohawk Institute, located on Haudenosaunee Territory and operated by the Anglican Church, was the first and longest-running institution in Canada’s nationwide system of assimilationist residential schools.
Kids from approximately 20 First Nations were forced to attend. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented about 50 deaths there. It closed in 1970.
It along with the Mount Elgin Residential School 100 kms away were known as the “mush hole” because of the bland porridge kids were forced to eat for breakfast.
The institute had two prison cells that served as punishment rooms for truants, who were often tracked down by Mounties, according to the TRC’s 2015 final report.
An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis kids were forced to attend more than 130 residential schools for over 166 years.
They were often stolen from their homes, banned from speaking their languages and subjected to physical and sexual abuse.