Alberta has announced $8 million to support research into unmarked burial sites and undocumented deaths at former residential schools across the province.
The new Residential Schools Community Research Grant will provide up to $150,000 to support community-led research.
Premier Jason Kenney said while the residential school system was established by the federal government, the province with the most residential schools was Alberta.
Twenty-five federally funded and church-run residential schools were open at various times between 1872 and 1975.
“The discovery of 215 remains of students at the former Kamloops residential school has shaken our nation and caused all of us to reflect on the wickedness of the residential school system which existed in this country for a century,” said Kenney during the announcement in Edmonton.
“The horrendousness of that system is hard for us today to comprehend. We have now been reminded there have been many of those students who are buried in unmarked graves, or graves that have been lost, and we’ve been reminded we have the moral obligation to find them, to recover their memory, to honour those sites and their lives.”
Kenney said that while many of the children passed away from common diseases at the time, the death rate at residential schools was far, far higher than for other children, and was a reflection of the substandard and often dangerous living conditions they were forced to experience.
“The trauma for many families has become inter-generational and we hope that this action will be one small evidence of the desire of Albertans to pursue the path of reconciliation and to honour those children whose lives were lost.”
He said each community or group will decide how to do their research and how to honour the children. In some cases they may not want to disturb the sites. Others may want to do full archaeological investigations.
“Each of them will have their own approach about what is the best way and we will honour that,” Kenney said.
Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson said truth must proceed reconciliation.
“In this country we’ve skirted the truth even though residential survivors and elders have been telling us for years that many children did not find their way home. Facing it is the start of reconciliation with our Indigenous people,” Wilson said.
Chief Marlene Poitra said while there is still much work ahead, the grant program is a positive step forward.
“I am glad to see the province working in partnership with First Nations to heal the atrocities of the past and work on bringing our lost children back home where they belong. Partnering and working together is key to advancing reconciliation,” said Poitra, regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations Alberta Association.
Communities and organizations can work together to submit a research proposal for a single residential school site. For joint submissions, there is no funding cap. Decisions will be made based on the proposal.
Funding will be capped at $150,000 for individual communities and organizations.
Applications are now available and will be accepted until Jan. 15, 2022.