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
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