Whitehorse Daily Star

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A SOMBRE GATHERING – Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill speaks during last Friday’s Yukon Forum, the first one of 2021. Premier Sandy Silver is at the far left, while Grand Chief Peter Johnston of the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) is in the centre. Johnston and leaders of the territorial government and First Nations met at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse. Photo courtesy YUKON GOVERNMENT

Premier backs probes of ex-residential school sites

“We’re not going to wait for the federal government,” Premier Sandy Silver said last Friday

By Tim Giilck on June 8, 2021

Revised - “We’re not going to wait for the federal government,” Premier Sandy Silver said last Friday as he informally announced an investigation into every former residential school in the territory.

Those stirring words capped the wrap-up of the latest iteration of the Yukon Forum.

Silver and Grand Chief Peter Johnston of the Council of Yukon First Nations told reporters during a media scrum following the forum they had reached a consensus agreement to carry out the investigation.

No timeline, framework nor budget were mentioned. That is all to be worked out in the immediate future.

Both men were intense and resolved as they discussed the decision. It was prompted by the discovery of what appear to be up to 215 children’s bodies on the property of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

“I don’t think that number will stay stagnant,” a sombre Silver said. “It’s been a tough day, with tough discussions.”

He called the situation there “a crime scene”.

Johnston said the plan “will be discussed among the First Nations.

“It’s always been a key factor. We won’t wait for the federal government,” he said, using the same words as Silver.

“The discussion and decision on this issue has to come from the communities, from the families,” Johnston added. “We’re going to let the communities provide direction.”

Silver said the government will “pay for it ourselves,” although that’s not an item included in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget.

There is no estimate on how much the work will cost, nor how it will be carried out.

There is a federal fund of $27 million that has been pledged to investigate residential school properties, but it’s unclear when it will be available.

Johnston was also sharply critical of what he called a lack of support from the Catholic Church in co-operating with the investigations, particularly the release of records from the schools.

“Forgiveness can only be given when there’s respect as well,” he said.

The Carcross-Tagish First Nation said last week it’s exploring the idea of having the grounds around the former Carcross residential school searched for possible human remains.

The Yukon Party said Tueday it’s “pleased to see the Yukon government, with Yukon First Nations as the lead, take action to begin the process of conducting an investigation at all former residential school grounds in the territory.

 “We know the trauma continues for survivors as they look for answers about their loved ones,” the official Opposition party said.

 A 24-hour national Indian residential school crisis line is available for former students and those affected, the party noted. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

“There are also local supports available by contacting the Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools Society in Whitehorse at 1-867-667-2247,” the party added.

 “This will be a long and painful process. We fully support the use of the proper resources needed to conduct this important and long-overdue work.”

Mayor Dan Curtis opened Monday evening’s council meeting by paying respect to Canada’s Indigenous community in the wake of the Kamloops discovery.

“I would like to begin by recognizing the tragic, heartbreaking devastation that the Canadian residental school system has had on so many people who are mourning today,” Curtis said. “I want all Indigenous people in our city, in our territory, in our country, to know we stand by you.”

Curtis said there are many hard days ahead, with many unknowns.

“Calls for accountability and closure continue, yet sadly we may never have all the answers that loved ones seek,” the mayor said.

“But the world now knows what Indigenous people have been saying for many, many years.”

Curtis said their loss has been profound, and “we share in their pain and in their immense loss.”

The mayor called on all institutions and people to work together to hold up all of Canada’s Indigenous people in the days, weeks and even the years that lie ahead.

The children buried at the Kamloops school were all former students, the youngest being three years old.

– With a file from Chuck Tobin

Comments (9)

Up 26 Down 8

yukoner on Jun 10, 2021 at 9:20 am

Let's be CRYSTAL CLEAR. It's not the Yukon government that's footing the bill, it's all taxpayers paying for sins of the government. Knock it off, Sandy. It's NOT YOUR MONEY.

Up 19 Down 8

The circle of life on Jun 9, 2021 at 10:15 pm

The Yukon Government - FFS! During this era and up until 1978 the Yukon was administrated by a Non-Partisan, Yukon Territorial Council under the authority of the Federal Government.

Interestingly there were a number of Phelps who served on the council with Willard Phelps - a Deacon of the church - serving a term in the 1940s. We now have a descendant of Willard Phelps serving as the Deputy Minister of Justice - Nice full circle... The church and state creating the social conditions that have led to the over representation of First Nations in the Canadian prison industrial complex... Nice...

How much damage has the church and the criminal Justice system done to Indigenous peoples - Nice! An additional concern is that the current Deputy Minister of Justice was a member of the Crown/Public Prosecution Service of Canada during a time when the Supreme Court Canada said things were getting worse for Indigenous over representation - Nice!

Defund Justice Now!

Up 10 Down 3

Bill on Jun 9, 2021 at 1:54 pm

@ Al & Mary
I went on a search myself and found an interesting article by Ken Coates entitled "BEST LEFT AS INDIANS". In his article there is a particular passage I found interesting that supports what both of you have illustrated - that being the Territorial Government in the late 40's and early 50's showed extreme prejudice of having indigenous children in public schools. Ken states: "However, the inadequate day school system, coupled with the refusal of most territorial public schools to accept native students, eliminated the immediate need for the Indians to fulfill the education requirement." What he was speaking of was the federal child benefit grant which had two conditions: "To qualify for the monthly allotments, one had only had to be a resident of Canada with children under the age of 16 registered in and attending school."

A conclusion can be drawn from this that by refusing to accept indigenous children in public schools maintained the status quo of perpetrating these children to remain in residential schools and thus not entitled to the grant. Seems clear to me of complicity in the residential school structure.

I guess when you start to lay out all the pieces of the puzzle the image begins to become clearer. While the Territorial Governments of the day may not have been the major force behind what transpired that do appear to have played a part. What more will emerge ? I am beginning to think we need to have a very clear understanding of the Territorial Governments involvement in residential schools. I guess I don't hold out much hope of that occurring unless the First Nations peoples start demanding such a review with the outcome being at the very most an Official Apology. Where the provinces have been involved they one and all have issued such an apology with the exception Newfoundland who did not have any such schools and did not enter Confederation until the late 40's.

Up 35 Down 7

Max Mack on Jun 9, 2021 at 10:17 am

Oh, the political theatre. Such grandstanding and virtue-signalling, when not a single body has yet to be exhumed or examined forensically.
'He called the situation there “a crime scene”.' That is an amazing statement considering there is zero evidence of a crime. Silver should tread very carefully here.

And Johnson's: “Forgiveness can only be given when there’s respect as well ". Make no mistake, this entire episode is being cynically used to perpetuate a politically expedient narrative - by political parties and first nations alike. The costs of this may reverberate for a long time to come.

Up 13 Down 8

Mary on Jun 8, 2021 at 10:18 pm

@ Al
Thanks Al for this. I followed the link you gave and was quite surprised by what I read about our government's involvement in the Residential Schools. I must admit I was ignorant of the Yukon Governments involvement.

I think it is important to cite a few passages, as I sense that those that were opposed to your comments did not take the time to research this for themselves.

1. St Paul's Hostel in Dawson City - In 1943 the Yukon government took over the funding of the facility.
2. Choutla School in Carcross - In July 1972, the Anglican Diocese of Yukon leased the school from the Yukon government. They operated the Carcross Community Education Centre from then until June 30, 1979.

If you take the time you will find that the Territorial Government had knowledge of the schools and what was going on. A review of archival materials bares out our participation.

Up 29 Down 14

Joe on Jun 8, 2021 at 6:39 pm

Now Sandy is a judge and jury - also calling it a crime scene without knowing the facts. I think government authority has gone to his head. Also, love the vest, reminds me of Trudeau in India.

Up 17 Down 16

Politico on Jun 8, 2021 at 5:42 pm

What is amazing is that so many people are surprised that the churches buried the dead children. No records, no statements, no accountability and no honour! The churches should be paying for all of this.

Up 26 Down 16

ProScienceGreenie on Jun 8, 2021 at 3:55 pm

I'm guessing the money is still coming from the fed? Or is Silver taking the money out of the government budget and is actually spending money on this? In other words, does our federal transfer payment increase by the amount OR are we reallocating monies? The Liberal government is directly responsible for this. I'm interested to see what happens with the antigonish (Silver's home) ground radar at Shubenacadie. I feel St Ninian's will be apologizing again.

Up 16 Down 32

Al on Jun 8, 2021 at 2:54 pm

Well considering that the Territorial Government was also complicit in the RS fiasco it makes perfect sense we would final step up to the plate. I can't recall if YTG ever issued a formal apology or not to first nations?

Please do read this article on Yukon's involvement:
https://explorenorth.com/library/history/indian_residential_schools-yukon.html

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