215 is the number that shocked the nation, but the numbers will keep climbing…

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Students outside the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, in Sault Ste. Marie, in 1955. (Courtesy of Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, Algoma University)

Prepare for much more alarming news.

This number will continue to grow.  215 is the number that shocked the nation.  That was one school.  There were 139 Residential schools recognized by the Indian Residential School Settlement agreement.

News broke on June 10th that Sioux Valley Dakota Nation are working towards identifying 104 children on the site of the Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba. This has been an ongoing process of investigation into the unmarked graves and cemeteries since 2012.

Katherine Nichols is one of the researchers leading this project.  Nichols is originally from the Brandon area, and is a Simon Fraser University PhD candidate. Sioux Valley Dakota Nation chief and council, as well as other landowners, collaborated with Nichols.

The results of Nichols’ thesis research found death records for 70 children but a site survey indicated additional unmarked graves, including some that were not in the cemetery, according to APTN.

It is estimated that over 150,000 Indian, Inuit, and Métis children attended Indian residential school in Canada.

Residential schools were in operation from the 1870’s until the last one closed in 1996.

This figure represents the residential schools that were funded and operated in whole by the federal government, or in part by the federal government partnered with a religious order.

There were a number of schools funded by the provincial government and/or a religious order that are not included in that number.  For instance, the Wawanosh School for Girls in Sault Ste. Marie, in operation from 1879 until they moved onto the grounds of Shingwauk in 1900, where they remained until the schools were merged into the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in 1935. The Wawanosh Home for Girls is not listed on either federal, or provincial record of Residential Schools.

As stated in a previous article, Rev. Wilson accepted 78 girls during the first five years of the Wawanosh school for girls’ existence. A 1883 study showed that eighty-three per cent of the girls who had attended the school had either died or left the Wawanosh Home in less than five years.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that it was later consolidated to Shingwauk Residential School.  Even so, how many schools like Wawanosh are not included in the quoted figure of 139?

Duncan Campbell Scott, who was the Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs in Canada in 1920, has been quoted on the record saying,  “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think, as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.”

Another effort in Saskatchewan has uncovered another, at least 35 unmarked graves at the Regina Industrial School.

215 is the number that shocked the nation, but the number keeps climbing…  now standing at 354 and, presumably, set to keep growing.

Within this conversation, it needs to also be said how triggering constantly being confronted with these numbers can be, as survivors have already known this for years.

Every child entered into the residential school system was assigned a number, that would have to become their identity through the process of assimilation.  Every single one of the children found in these unmarked, mass graves, had a name and a family.  Do not let them remain just a number.

A Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.