The following story references abuse at residential schools. Yukoners can schedule rapid access counselling at 1-867-456-3838. The national Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
More than $1.25 million is going toward a Yukon First Nation to support the community in locating unmarked graves at a residential school site.
Carcross/Tagish First Nation has received $435,000 for 2021-2022 through the federal government’s residential schools missing children community support funding. It is one of 70 federal funding arrangements, with 40 communities receiving federal funding for fieldwork investigations across Canada.
The territorial government is also putting up $225,000 in 2021-2022 for the Choutla school residential working committe’s first year of operation, and another $595,000 for the second year of the project.
While the harms of residential schools are well-documented and graveyards could be seen outside some schools, searches have been prompted across the country after the dark discovery of 215 unmarked graves on the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. on the traditional territory of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc people in 2021.
Grand Chief Peter Johnston of the Council of Yukon First Nations told reporters in May that once the ground starts to thaw out, the “necessary but sensitive” work will get underway in the Yukon.
In a Sept. 9 communique about a commemorative event in Carcross, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Chief Maria Benoit and committee chair Adeline Webber indicated work at the site has commenced and the next phase of the work will be a “challenging one.”
The communique said a monument will be erected at the site to give people a place to “reflect and acknowledge the impacts of the past, and work for a better future for our people.”
“It is time for us to start looking at solutions, finding our way home, and finding our peaceful place in society where we can once again be honored, and stand proud as Indigenous Yukoners,” stated Haa Sha Du Hen Maria Benoit.
Students from all Yukon communities
In 2021, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation had asked other First Nations to join them in mapping out the work and methods required to formally research circumstances surrounding the school. The work was intended to focus on the school in Carcross, then expand to other residential school sites in the Yukon.
The Choutla Residential School, also known as Carcross Indian Residential School, ran from 1903 to 1969, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR).
It was established by Bishop William Bompas and Bishop Isaac Stringer as the first residential school in the territory in 1911 and operated by the Anglican Church of Canada, as per the Yukon Residential Schools Bibliography.
The NCTR states on its website that in 1903, students from the school at Forty Mile were moved to a small school in Carcross and in 1911, the federal government built the Choutla school. Since Yukon First Nations people were considered wards of the state and governed by the Indian Affairs Branch, the federal government paid for the school.
In 1939, the school burned down. It was rebuilt in 1944. A new school was built in 1953 and closed in 1969.
The purpose of the school was to assimilate children into white society by removing them from their homes and traditional ways of life.
“The school had a reputation for poor health, harsh discipline, poor food and unpleasant living quarters,” reads the NCTR website.
“In the 1940s, the principal admitted to strapping students so severely that they had to be held down.”
The website lists the names of 20 students who died: Ada Roberts, Albert Jackson, Albert Tom, Bella Daniel, Bertha Jimmy, Caroline Moses, Charlie Johnson, Clara Moses, Cora Drugan, Douglas Hall, Elizabeth Kwatlatyi, Eunice, John Lucas, Joshua Moses, Martha Mcleod, Mollie Dickson, Paul Peter Mcginty, Sarah Moses, Sarah Tetlechi and Susie Anderson.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s book Canada, Aboriginal People and Residential Schools: They Came for the Children cites Richard King, who taught at the Choutla school during the 1962 to 1963 school year. King concluded that the school’s record-keeping system was dismal. He said it “would be unacceptable in any well-run stock farm, where at the very least, parentage, production records and performance characteristics of each animal are minimal records to be maintained.”
During an Aug. 29 press conference following a flag raising ceremony to honour residential school survivors, federal ministers responded to a question about the timeline for the results of searches for unmarked graves in the North.
Minister of Northen Affairs Dan Vandal said the federal government works at the pace of communities and acknowledges and respects what the communities want.
Vandal mentioned communities in the northern territories are having ongoing dialogue and there are opportunities for communities to “come forward and request a partnership with the federal government to bring it to the next level.”
Minister Marc Miller of Crown-Indigenous Relations noted not everyone is ready for a number of reasons, such as the debate over the intrusive work being undertaken with ground searches.
“A lot of the work that communities want to do is discussions with elders who are quite advanced in age and often very reticent to speak about their experiences, and some of them speaking for the first time, in an effort to move to that next stage, which is to correlate that information with possible ground search areas looking for spots to go over,” he said.
“This is really, really traumatizing. It’s difficult for a community.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org