The elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River says the search for unmarked graves at the former site of a residential school in southwestern Ontario should be treated as a criminal investigation.
Chief Mark Hill issued the call on Wednesday along with survivors of the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School in Brantford, Ont.
He says the First Nation is urging police forces to collaborate with the community on the effort.
Hill says 54 deaths were recorded at the former residential school but the graves of those individuals are unknown.
He says Six Nations will provide $1 million to support the creation of a survivor secretariat that will help with the search effort.
The investment will be used until previously announced funding from the provincial and federal governments is obtained.
“This is about recovering all of the children,” he told a news conference.
Last month, the Ontario government committed $10 million over three years to identify, investigate and commemorate burial sites on the grounds of former residential schools in the province.
Those funds will also go toward culturally appropriate supports for school survivors, their families and communities, and the government has said the entire process will be Indigenous-led.
Ontario’s announcement came a few weeks after the discovery of an unmarked burial site believed to contain the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario. The province has said there are likely more.
The final report from the commission detailed mistreatment at Canada’s residential schools, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and more than 4,000 deaths at the institutions.
It reported known deaths of 426 children who attended schools in Ontario and an unknown number of children still missing.
Six Nations said the Mohawk Institute opened in 1828 and was the longest-operating residential school in the country. It was relocated once, burned down twice, and closed in 1970.
Six Nations is a predominantly Haudenosaunee community of nearly 13,000 residents outside Brantford.