Why it’s difficult to put a number on how many children died at residential schools

WARNING: This story comprises distressing particulars.

A big orange billboard with the slogan “Every Child Matters” stands in the midst of Kebaowek First Nation, an Algonquin group in Quebec’s Abitibi-Témiscamingue area, 300 kilometres northwest of Ottawa. 

It additionally has a tally of potential unmarked graves which have been found as far as First Nations throughout the nation conduct ground-penetrating radar searches at former residential college websites. Management hopes the rising quantity serves as a stark reminder of what number of kids by no means returned residence.

“It’s taken us so long to get the attention of Canada to the atrocities that happened to our people,” stated Kebaowek Chief Lance Haymond.

“We just want to support those First Nations who are going through the process of discovery. It’s just our way of showing support and continuing to educate and highlight what’s gone on in residential schools.”

The memorial in reminiscence of kids who died at residential faculties is pictured in Calgary on June 8. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The signal is only one of many acts of solidarity, consciousness, and remembrance which have popped up throughout the nation forward of the Nationwide Day for Reality and Reconciliation on Sept. 30. However whereas many are keen to boost consciousness and make related exhibits of assist, navigating the totally different numbers circulating is a problem. 

Challenges preserving observe

The quantity that Kebaowek is utilizing — 6,509 — is one which has been circulating extensively on social media, amongst others.

“That was the number we were seeing,” stated Haymond.

“Is it accurate? At the end of the day, where do we continue to find good information on what those numbers are?

CBC Information was unable to confirm the accuracy of the quantity, nor different numbers circulating on social media that had been unsourced or with out accompanying context.

“I get a sense that people really want the number. But from my perspective, this is a marathon, not a sprint,” stated Tamara Randall, who created and moderates the Fb group Each Youngster Issues with over 17,000 members.

“It has been challenging on the page to navigate because people post a higher number and then everybody jumps on that number.”

Primarily based on protection throughout CBC Information, searches of at the very least 9 places have been accomplished to this point. These searches have discovered over 1,300 potential unmarked burials. That features some ground-penetrating radar searches that occurred previous to this spring when information broke about potential unmarked burial websites close to the former Kamloops residential college in B.C.

Floor-penetrating radar searches are in progress or investigations have been launched at roughly 17 former residential college websites, and discussions or consultations are ongoing at one other 21 websites.

Risks of misinformation

There was at the very least one occasion of misinformation about unmarked graves circulating on social media final month, a few former residential college in Alberta. 

Sherri Chisan, president of College nuxełhot’įne thaaɁehots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills, stated she needed to concern a information launch debunking claims of “1,100 student babies found at Blue Quills” that was shared extensively on TikTok and Fb.

Sherri Chisan is the president of College nuxełhot’įne thaaɁehots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills in Alberta. (Submitted by Sherri Chisan )

“It was disturbing,” stated Chisan in regards to the social media put up. 

“This is a highly sensitive issue. People are hurting.”

The college, which is run by seven First Nations in Treaty 6 territory, is positioned on the former Blue Quills Indian Residential College about 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, which operated between 1931 and 1970.

Chisan stated the college has not executed any ground-penetrating radar searches for unmarked burial websites, and is just within the preliminary levels of consulting with communities about the right way to proceed with a search.

She stated it will likely be necessary to centre survivors within the course of, however misinformation can have a adverse influence earlier than any course of has begun.

“It creates confusion and perhaps eventually distrust, and it makes it much more difficult to carry on with our process,” stated Chisan. 

“Patience, compassion, kindness, [and] love will carry us through this.”

Effort and time wanted

Discovering out the variety of kids who died at residential college is an extended and difficult activity, stated Raymond Frogner, head of archives for the Nationwide Centre for Reality and Reconciliation in Winnipeg, which holds the information gathered by the Reality and Reconciliation Fee (TRC).

He acknowledged that feelings are excessive however as searches for unmarked burial websites are just one piece of the puzzle, and throwing a quantity on social media may not be one of the simplest ways to indicate the magnitude and scope of the difficulty.

“It still takes more understanding and context and research to really know what that GPR is revealing,” he stated.

That will not occur in a single day.

  • Are you aware of a kid who by no means got here residence from residential college? Or somebody who labored at one? We want to hear from you. Electronic mail our Indigenous-led staff investigating the impacts of residential faculties at wherearethey@cbc.ca or name toll-free: 1-833-824-0800.

Thus far, the centre has documented 4,118 kids who died at residential faculties, as a part of its work to implement the TRC’s Name to Motion 72 to create a nationwide demise register and public-facing memorial register. Not all the deaths listed on the registry embrace burial information.

“That’s only not even a fifth of our records that we’ve gone through to do that,” stated Frogner.

“The records had been so fragmented across so many different organizations and institutions that there’s still work to be done.”

Frogner stated the centre is constant to undergo the 4 million-plus information and seven,000 witness statements it holds so as to add extra names and lacking info. 

He additionally anticipates the quantity of kids on the demise register will improve at “least by five-fold.”

“This is going to take a lot of time and effort, and the answers won’t come quickly,” he stated.

“I think that’s the thing to remember — that it’s just the start of an intense period of research and effort to try and rediscover the children that were in these unmarked burials. Every school and every community has been discussing this for generations. It’s just now coming to the surface and coming into a national conscience.”

For Chief Haymond, he simply hopes the group’s signal will assist hold dialogue about residential faculties within the consciousness of Kebaowek’s neighbours.

A monument in Kebaowek First Nation devoted to group members who attended residential faculties. (Submitted by Lance Haymond)

“Every effort that we do goes a long way in educating the average Quebecer, because for the most part our history has been erased,” he stated.

“It’s taken so long for this issue to become front and centre. Even though we’ve had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it only generated a reaction when numbers started to be put out there.”


Help is offered for anybody affected by their expertise at residential faculties and those that are triggered by these stories.

A nationwide Indian Residential College Disaster Line has been set as much as present assist for residential college survivors and others affected. Individuals can entry emotional and disaster referral providers by calling the 24-hour nationwide disaster line: 1-866-925-4419.