Alberta supports reconciliation through grant to uncover residential school burial sites

Wilson: “This new program is not going to change the past, but it can help build a better future.”

Alex Anas Ahmed Calgary AB

The uncovering of 215 unmarked graves at a Kamloops Residential School continues to create waves as governments press onwards towards Reconciliation.

Alberta’s government announced Wednesday it will provide $8 million to support community-led research across the province to research undocumented deaths and burials in residential schools.

“I don't believe I'm overstating it when I say that Canadians and Albertans are deeply shaken by this horrifying revelation,” said Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson. “In this country, we're scared of the truth. Even though residential school survivors and elders have been telling us for years that many children did not find their way home.”

The Alberta Residential Schools Community Research Grant is open to Indigenous communities and groups that will lead the research into the tragic legacy of Canada’s residential school program in Alberta.  

“All Albertans stand with Indigenous communities across the country who live with the legacy of Canada’s residential school program,” said Premier Jason Kenney. “The devastating discovery of 215 human remains in Kamloops has been a call to action.”

He notes that while First Nations and others have helped identify remains and undocumented burial sites, more work still needs to be done. “Alberta’s government is committed to assisting Indigenous communities in identifying and commemorating these sites, in the spirit of reconciliation.”

Grant funding will be available to Indigenous communities and organizations for community-driven research, including gathering oral histories and knowledge of elders and community-led engagement to determine how communities wish to proceed with a burial site.

Using ground-penetrating radar and other technologies to explore potential unmarked burial sites is an option. Still, Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin stipulates that how Indigenous communities proceed is decided by their people.

“I know there is a desire to search Poundmaker's Lodge, which is the Edmonton site, primarily for First Nations Residential Schools," he said. "We’ll be approaching Poundmaker to have those initial discussions.”

Through partnerships with experts experienced in locating human burials, First Nations will decide whether to use ground-penetrating radar to locate human remains or to leave the sites undisturbed and install grave markers, memorials or hold on-site commemoration events.

“Finding these resting places and honouring burial sites is a delicate and tragic matter,” said Wilson. “This new program is not going to change the past, but it can help build a better future.”

Chief Marlene Poitras, regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations Alberta Association, believes the community research grant is a much-needed step in the reconciliation process regarding the legacy of residential schools in Alberta. “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,” she said. “Partnering and working together is key to advancing reconciliation.”

Through this grant, families will be able to research grave burial sites and gain closure as they grieve. “While there is still much work ahead, this is a positive step forward, and I commend the actions taken today,” said Chief Poitras.

Wilson strongly encourages communities to work together on applications, where they can qualify for up to $150,000 in grant funding. Alongside federal grant funding, Wilson is hopeful applicants can get the financing they need to cover most of their costs and find long-awaited answers before more time passes.

Applications are now available and will be accepted until Jan. 15, 2022.

“This is another step in addressing the painful legacy of residential schools and helping families find closure. Alberta’s government is committed to supporting the survivors and loved ones of the Indian residential school system.”

More residential schools operated in Alberta than in other provinces or territories. Twenty-five federally funded and church-run residential schools were open at various times between 1872 and 1975.


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