Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, October 25, 2016. Canadian researchers are scrambling to reveal uncomfortable truths behind its government-sanctioned boarding school program for indigenous children, where thousands of children died due to neglect, suicide, and harsh living conditions. Many bodies remain in unmarked graves across the country.
Roughly 150,000 aboriginal children were forcibly assimilated through Canadian residential schools from 1883 to 1998 and equated to "cultural genocide", a finalized 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report concluded.
The report discovered that around 3,200 died in the schools, with the greatest number of deaths taking place before 1940. Schools also had a high number of tuberculosis and other health incidences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with death rates remaining high until the 1950s.
Many children at residential schools died from the diseases caused by malnourishment and forced labor. Others froze to death trying to escape the harsh camps, were burned alive or committed suicide.
Many died while on their way to school during the wintertime, Anne Lindsay, former archivist for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) said.
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Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau initiated the nearly 530-page report in 2015 while promising to implement the Commission’s calls to actions, with six creating a registry for missing children and their unmarked graves.
Researchers are worried that insufficient resources and documents could cause the victim’s relatives to die without finding out the truth or whereabouts of their ancestors and their gravesites, the Independent reported on Monday.
"There are scant resources being provided to do this work," NCTR director Ry Moran said. "We know some of those cemetery locations now sit under parking lots."
The government was provided with $500,000 to help the NCTR in "making progress towards the completion of these and other associated Calls to Action," with hopes of creating an initial registry of deceased schoolchildren by March 2019.
"I’ve been an archivist for 40 years and this is the most important work I’ve done," Nancy Hurn, archivist for the Anglican Church of Canada said, adding that locating the documentation was "seldom straightforward".
"There is a lot to account for," she continued.
The report also mentioned that school records were improperly recorded or deliberately destroyed, with government authorities failing to record the victims’ names, genders, and cause of death, sometimes failing to report the children’s deaths altogether.
In one case, the Canadian government opposed giving documents to the Commission and lawyers of residential school survivors, adding that government officials refused to disclose documents to third-party requests and would amount to "burdening the Government of Canada", the report continued.
Religious organizations indicated in the report have expressed "regret", including the Anglican Church of Canada, Jesuits of English Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada and others. However, Prime Minister Trudeau has repeatedly requested an apology from the Catholic Church, but has not received one to date.
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