Ontario’s $1.3M contribution for research at former Mohawk Institute is far less than survivors asked for

The group overseeing the search for potential unmarked graves at the site of the former Mohawk Institute boarding school in Brantford, Ont., is receiving $1.3 million from Ontario, a fraction of the $9 million originally requested.

Provincial funding for the Six Nations of the Grand River Survivors Secretariat will cover three years, according to secretariat spokesperson Tabitha Curley.

The Secretariat has received $1 million so far, Curley said.

The funding announcement was made on Tuesday, the same day the Archbishop of Canterbury reiterated his apology for boarding schools in Toronto.

The search for the land where the Woodland Cultural Center now stands began in November after preliminary search by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C. last May detected 215 potential graves.

The Mohawk Institute, one of the oldest and oldest residential schools in Canada, opened in 1828 and closed in 1970.

Some 15,000 students from 20 First Nations communities attended the school. Many had been abducted from their homes and abused.

Records say there were 54 dead, but local police departments said they don’t know where they were buried.

Research can take longer and cost more

Ahead of Tuesday’s funding announcement, Kimberly Murray, executive director of the secretariat, said the province offered $400,000 over three years before offering $700,000 over three years in January.

Curley said even the $9 million might not be enough.

“The search may take longer and the budget may increase as the Secretariat continues to identify more and more sites of interest.”

Flavia Mussio, spokesperson for the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, said the $1.3 million is “the first step in Ontario’s commitment” to help survivors get answers.

Mussio said the province will continue to work with Six Nations and the secretariat.

The ground search team at the Mohawk Institute previously said they covered nearly four hectares, focusing on the area around the old residential school building. The property is approximately 243 acres.

The search also stopped in winter due to weather conditions. It is not known whether work has resumed.

Secretariat board member Diane Hill said in a press release that she hopes the provincial funding is a step forward.

“It’s important work, sacred work. We haven’t had the healthiest of relationships [and] we hope this will change in the future. We remind Ontario that we need answers. That’s what matters.”