The Yukon government is working to release what information it can to help the Truth and Reconciliation Commission identify children who died or went missing while attending residential schools.
But thanks to stricter legislation in the territory, the information might not be as detailed as in other jurisdictions.
The commission, through its missing children project, is reaching out to all the provinces and territories for death records of school-aged children in an effort to identify those who died.
But in the Yukon, the government cannot release a person’s cause of death until 100 years after they’ve died.
That part of the territory’s Vital Statistics Act is “very restrictive, for sure,” said Kimberly Murray, the commission’s executive director.
“I think it’s the longest one of all the provinces and territories.”
In the Yukon, the first residential school in the territory opened in 1891. “So if there are any death records from 1891 to 1914 they are able to give us everything,” Murray said.
After 1914 until the last school was closed in 1985 the territory will provide the names of school-aged children who died.
“That’s helpful, because we can then take those names and cross-reference them with the list we’re creating of the kids that went to the schools, so we’ll be able to identify whether it is a student or not.”
The Department of Health and Social Services will also provide information on where the children died and where they are buried, if that is known, said spokesperson Pat Living.
Murray said the Yukon government is supporting the project and wanting to do whatever they can to provide information.
“But we won’t know the cause of death, and as you know that is one of the questions we want answered,” Murray said.
“So I’ll have a statistical review but I won’t have specifics to that person.”
One way for a person’s cause of death to be made public is for surviving family members to request the records.
Murray said that families could, in theory, then pass the information on to the commission.
On Wednesday, the Yukon’s MLAs unanimously passed a motion to urge the government “to take all necessary measures to expedite the release of data requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
Other jurisdictions are also providing records to the commission.
The B.C. government has handed over the records of 4,900 deaths. There were more than 130 residential schools acrossthe country. The last one closed in 1996.
Today, there are anestimated 80,000 former students still living, according to the commission.
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