In an emotional announcement outside the steps of the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Elected Chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River Mark B. Hill provided an update into the search for unmarked graves at the former site of the Mohawk Institute Residential School. Said to be one of the first and longest running Residential Schools in Canada, Chief Hill was joined by several survivors including Roberta Hill, who read an open letter to Six Nations Police Chief Darren Montour requesting the beginning of a criminal death investigation.
“Many children died at the institute.” said Hill. “We believe many are buried on the grounds of the former Mohawk Institute, now the Woodland Cultural Centre, as well as the adjacent grounds and fields. We, the survivors and those who are no longer with us (…) were subject to all forms of physical, mental and sexual abuse in the institute. Some children died as a result of this abuse. Staff members and those running the institute were never held accountable for their actions.”
“We request the police to investigate the deaths of these children, and where they are buried. We need answers, and we need to find the children.”
Speaking to the history of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School, Chief Hill said that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission discovered at least 54 death records in the 142 years associated with the school, though “where those little bodies are buried” remains unclear. With up to 500 acres forming the school’s property throughout it’s history, Chief Hill said every acre must be searched – supporting the call for a criminal investigation.
In moving forward the search in this manner, Chief Hill said that Six Nations of the Grand River want to ensure that there is “justice and accountability right from the beginning”, as he added that conducting the search for unmarked graves in a different way could risk “evidence” being compromised in the investigation process. In addition to the request made by survivors, Chief Hill said the community will be supporting the creation of a “multi-jurisdictional major case management police force”, asking various police services to work in collaboration alongside Six Nations Police, Brantford Police and the O.P.P.
“We will be putting in place several guiding principles and protocols, as well as oversight to this process, respecting survivors not only from Six Nations but from other communities as well.
In meeting with survivors, Chief Hill said the process of uncovering these unmarked graves must be “survivor led, trauma informed, and supported by Haudenosaunee law and principles” while showing respect for nationhood and “nation-to-nation diplomacy.” In addition, Chief Hill said that survivors have mandated the creation of a “survivor secretariat”, to provide a variety of services to assist in the work – including overseeing research and document collection activity, gathering survivor and community statements and more.
That work will be supported by the Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council, as the group passed a motion last week to provide the secretariat $1 million to begin those tasks on an interim basis. Chief Hill noted that no funding has been provided yet by the provincial or federal governments to move work forward, as he maintained that time is of the essence. Furthermore, Chief Hill noted that an open letter sent to the office of the Prime Minister requesting immediate technological assistance to begin the search for missing children at the Mohawk Institute has yet to receive a response. That letter was issued in late May.
“Our community was quite disheartened to learn that our Prime Minister was in Hamilton yesterday, less than 30 minutes from the Mohawk Institute and is yet to visit our survivors and our community.”
Closing out Wednesday’s update in Brantford, Chief Hill emphasized that the goal of the search is in “recovering all of our children”, emphasizing that the lives of every child “truly matters in this country.”
“If this government is serious, they will work with us to make sure that we bring every single one of them home."
For Immediate Release: July 21, 2021— Six Nations of the Grand River (@SixNationsGR) July 21, 2021
Mohawk Institute Survivors Call for Criminal Investigation; Receive $1 Million in Supports pic.twitter.com/CiMniwCKWW