Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation master carver Joe David gifted this totem pole to the District of Tofino in 2018 to recognize the community’s presence within the First Nation’s traditional territory. (Westerly file photo)

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation receives $543K to search for unmarked burial sites

Two former Residential School sites to be searched

The federal government has announced $543,180 of funding over three years to support the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s search for potential unmarked graves at two former Residential School sites.

“This funding support is an important first step in helping our nation identify the atrocities and harm done to our children and facilitate the healing of our members who endured the pain and suffering in Canadian Residential Schools,” said Thomas George of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation through a Feb. 16 joint-announcement with the federal government.

The announcement adds that locating unmarked graves at former Residential School sites across Canada is “a painful reminder of the abuse that many Indigenous children suffered in these institutions.”

“The Government of Canada is working with Survivors, Indigenous leaders and affected families and communities to address historical wrongs and the lasting physical, emotional, mental and spiritual harms related to the legacy of Residential Schools,” it reads. “Part of this work includes locating and commemorating missing children who attended Residential Schools, as well as responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action 72 to 76.”

The First Nation has been conducting ongoing research through ground-penetrating radar to locate potential unmarked burial sites at two former Christie Residential School sites on Meares Island and in Tofino, according to the announcement.

“Our hearts are with Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation as they undertake this painful but important work to locate and memorialize missing children from Christie Residential School sites,” said Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Marc Miller. “We acknowledge Canada’s failure in protecting the rights of Indigenous children—taken away from their families and cultures—and we remain committed to supporting your work as you uncover the truth and work toward healing.”

The announcement adds that the work will include collaborating with Elders and Knowledge Keepers to respond to family wishes to memorialize their losses and the children’s final resting place.

“The First Nation will also create lasting historical resources to tell the story of Survivors, their families and the community, sharing their stories with local schools and organizations to increase awareness and support ongoing healing and reconciliation,” it reads. “This community-led process will ensure that Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation can undertake this work in their own way and at their own pace.”

The funding is part of a $320 million commitment made by the federal government in 2021 to “support Indigenous-led, Survivor-centric and culturally informed initiatives and investments to help Indigenous communities respond to—and heal from—the ongoing impacts of Residential Schools.”

Approximately $116 million has been committed to the cause so far.

Former Residential School students can access emotional and crisis referral services through a 24-Hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.

A Hope for Wellness Help Line is also available to Indigenous Peoples at 1-855-242-3310 and www.hopeforwellness.ca.

READ MORE: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and provincial government collaborating on reconciliation efforts

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First Nationsresidential schoolsTruth and Reconciliation