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 provincial and federal governments are funding more mental health supports for Wauzhushk Onigum members, as the community continues to carry out work to locate their lost children.

Ontario is providing Wauzhushk Onigum with over $500,000 as part of the province’s $4 million investment in residential school-specific mental health funding. Indigenous Services Canada is also providing $70,000 to enhance community-based, cultural programming.

“Supporting the mental health and well-being of Indigenous peoples and communities, including Indian Residential School Survivors, remains a top priority for our government,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs.

“We continue to seek direction from Indigenous partners to ensure culturally appropriate, trauma-informed mental health and wellness supports meet the needs of Indigenous communities,” he adds.

Rickford says the funding will be used to conduct a healing needs assessment to support the community with specific supports for youth, as members continue their healing journey related to work at the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School site.

Originally opening back in 1897, the Rat Portage Boarding School eventually became St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in 1938 and was operated by the Roman Catholic Church near the current Golden Eagle Entertainment Facility site until it closed down in 1972.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, based out of Winnipeg, says records show that at least 36 students passed away while the school was in operation.

Two 12-year-olds were found deceased after running away from St. Mary's in 1970. They were Phillip ‘Bean’ Swain and Roderick Taypaywaykejick. The two had planned to walk home to Grassy Narrows First Nation.

Documents from the National Residential School Survivor’s Society detailing the history of the facility show that staff performed nutritional experiments with illegal flour on children in their care between 1942 and 1952, many were denied dental treatments, students suffered a smallpox outbreak in 1913 and a fire destroyed a dormitory building in 1938.

In memory of St. Mary’s students:

Albert Joseph-Henry
Ambrose Skead
Amos Blackhawk
Antoinette Tap-Pee
Bernadette Strong
Cathline Thomas
Charlie Mechangabo
David Redsky
Elise Indian
Elizabeth Thomas
Jim Flim
John Jack
Joseph Blackhawk
Joseph Netawegabo
Joseph Thomas
Josephine Seymour
Josephine Shebawkwan
Joyce Bluebird
Louis Strong
Mabel Skeid
Margaret Peetawekijick
Mary Strong
Marie Therese Bob
Martha G Sukedjeweskang
Michael Charley Macheegabow
Nancy Keewatin
Norman Robinson
Peter Kapkagesik
Phillip Swain
Robert Thompson
Roderick Keesick
Rosaline Bird
Sarah Jack
Thos Wawanapetungs
Victoria Kelly
William Kennedy

Additional photos from St. Mary’s Residential School can be found through Algoma University HERE.

The federal government announced a nearly $2.5 million investment over three years to carry out work to identify potential burial sites in Wauzhushk Onigum last August, with Ontario committing $400,000 over two years between 2023 and 2024.

The provincial and federal governments also recently committed nearly $1 million to support mental wellness initiatives associated with Lac Seul First Nation’s Bringing Our Children Home project, which also received additional funding over three years from Ottawa.

Nationally, Canada operated over 150 Indian Residential Schools for over 140 years. The last remaining residential school closed down 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 of Truth and Reconciliation 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.