Canada's federal government announced Tuesday that it will commit over $321 million to the nation's Indigenous community in the wake of the discovery of severalon the former sites of residential schools. The money will help fund the searches for more grave sites and aid who are still recovering from the trauma.
"For many people across Canada, the recent news of finding unmarked graves at residential schools was an awakening to a deeper knowledge of the truth and the true horror of the residential schools and the continual impact of Indigenous peoples today," Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Tuesday in a news conference announcing the funds. "As a country we know the truth. Once you know the truth, you cannot unknow it."
Bennet said the funds will be broken into several initiatives dedicated to the Indigenous community's healing and reconciliation with the Canadian government. According to Bennet, $83 million will be added to an existing fund to aid in the search for more unmarked graves and burial sites at residential schools. Another $100.1 million will go towards plans to transform existing residential school grounds over the next two years and $107 million will go to mental health services for school survivors.
State-funded residential schools were set up in Canada in the late 19th century, and were usually operated by the Catholic Church. Thousands of Indigenous people were legally mandated by the Canadian government to attend these schools in an effort to forcibly assimilate them. The last one closed in 1997.
A 2015 report concluded that at least 4,000 students died at these schools.
Justice Minister David Lametti said that, as Canada currently lacks the legal practices and frameworks to address the "complex" issues of the Indigenous community, he will appoint a "special interlocutor" to help communities and local governments work together to create laws and policies surrounding unmarked graves, an idea he credited directly to community leaders.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said that in addition to the trauma felt by those whose family members died at residential schools, Indigenous community members have contacted the Canadian government and said that the continual discovery of bodies has opened "old wounds they thought they had healed.
"We all know that we can't close our eyes, and as a government of non-Indigienous Canadians, we have to stand beside and support survivors, their families and communities as they begin or continue to heal," Miller said Tuesday.
Jericka Duncan contributed to this report.
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