If you are a residential school survivor, you are able to contact the 24-hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 for support. Indigenous people can also access the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
The federal government is funding additional work to bring lost children home in Lac Seul First Nation.
Lac Seul leadership has been working with 33 affiliated Northern Ontario First Nation communities to locate, document, map, maintain, commemorate and memorialize potential burial sites of the former Pelican Lake Residential School.
Now, the federal government has announced another $6 million in funding over three years to continue that work and build on Ottawa’s and Ontario’s previous $1 million investments. The funding includes over $950,000 to support mental wellness resources associated with the work.
“The funding commitment allows us, as First Nations, to search for our missing children and to find the truth through meaningful involvement of residential school survivors and their families,” explains Lac Seul First Nation Chief, Clifford Bull.
“This means having an ongoing mental health, financial and human support system in place that will be as critical as we delve into such a dark past,” adds Bull.
As well as the 33 other communities involved, Lac Seul has also been working alongside the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority and the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council with the Bringing Our Children Home project.
“Ontario is supporting Lac Seul First Nation as they continue to work on this important community-led initiative – Bringing Our Children Home,” said Kenora-Rainy River MPP and Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Greg Rickford.
“This includes funding for mental health supports for survivors, elders and community members. It is necessary for Ontario to deepen its collective understanding of the legacy and intergenerational traumas caused by the Indian Residential School system on the journey towards meaningful reconciliation,” adds Rickford.
Canada’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, based out of Winnipeg, says Pelican Lake School was established by the Anglican Church in 1926 on farmland near Sioux Lookout.
The school experienced severe overcrowding in the 1940s, but by the 50s, the school mostly served as a residence for other students attending local day schools. The federal government took over the site in 1969, closing it by 1978.
Records show that over the 51 years the school was in operation, at least 24 children passed away. But only 15 children were ever reported to be missing by the school. An extensive search of the grounds previously took place in 2012, but only animal remains were found.
The school was then torn down in 1978. Today, Pelican Falls First Nations High School sits in the former Pelican Lake Residential School’s location. The school opened a memorial garden in honour of former students’ memories in 2004.
In 1996, Anglican Priest Leonard Hands, who worked at the school in the 60s, was charged with 19 counts of indecent assault. He entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to four years in prison, dying in 2,000. The case was initiated by Pelican Lake Survivor Garnet Angeconeb, and Hands remains the only person ever charged for crimes at the school.
In memory of those who passed away at the Pelican Lake Residential School:
Mary Ann Ash
Michael Jean Sapay
Thomas Wapoos (Rabbit)
Additional photos of the school can be found through Algoma University HERE.
“The work being undertaken with Bringing Our Children Home is essential in sharing and finding the truth about the ongoing legacy and impacts of residential schools,” said Thunder Bay MPP and Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu.
“This is heavy work, and I applaud Chief Bull and members of Lac Seul First Nation leadership in prioritizing the mental wellness of all those involved every step of the way, fostering a supportive environment for community healing as this process unfolds,” adds Hajdu.
Nationally, Canada operated over 150 Indian Residential Schools for over 140 years. The last residential school in Canada, the Gordon Residential School in Saskatchewan, closed its doors in 1996.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their homes and forced to attend the schools and assimilate into settler culture, which included giving youth new names, haircuts and identification numbers.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says their records show that over 38,000 children were subjected to sexual and serious physical abuse during their time through the residential school system.
Canada collectively started to pay attention to the dark history and legacy of the residential school system in 2021, after leadership of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site, using ground-penetrating radar.
Their discovery prompted First Nation communities across Canada to begin looking for their lost children using the same technology.
Ottawa later pledged more than $320 million to search residential school sites last year. Ontario then pledged another $20 million over a three-year span to identify, investigate and commemorate all 18 residential school burial sites across the province.
“Our government will continue to support Indigenous communities as their unique needs and priorities evolve, including Lac Seul First Nation, with their research and commemoration initiatives to heal from the devastating and lasting impacts of the Pelican Lake Residential School,” said Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister, Marc Miller.
“We acknowledge the difficult work that the leadership, the survivors, their families and the community of Lac Seul First Nation is taking on,” adds Miller.
The National Centre says they have records of at least 4,127 children lost through residential schools as of the end of 2021, prior to them receiving additional outstanding records from the federal government.
The federal government also passed legislation to make September 30 a federal statutory holiday, one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2015’s Calls to Action, to provide opportunities for federal workers to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools.