It’s been a long time coming, but it comes with as much trepidation as relief to the survivors of the Spanish residential schools and their families, including many from Nipissing First Nation.
On February 4, it was announced that the Nisoonag (Three Canoes) Partnership was initiating the process of searching the grounds of the former residential schools in Spanish, Ontario for the next 2 to 3 years, for the possibility of unmarked graves. The announcement was of particular significance to West Nipissing because the two schools on site were attended by generations of Nipissing First Nation children. Others came from Manitoba, northern Ontario and Quebec, forming the largest such facility in Ontario.
There were two schools, one for boys and one for girls, which operated from 1913 to 1965, run by the Jesuit Fathers, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, and the Government of Canada. The Nisoonag Partnership conducting the search represents Serpent River, Sagamok-Anishnawbek and Mississauga First Nations. Oral history told of the schools includes stories of children disappearing. Many people at Nipissing First Nation are responding to the announcement with both dread, sorrow and a concern for truth, whatever the findings may be.
Gimaa (Chief) Scott McLeod of NFN provided some of his thoughts on the matter. “On the surface it’s good news that the federal government contributed $700K and province committed to $900K to look at this, and that money includes, which is very important, monies going to mental wellness for survivors through the process. When you break it down it’s not nearly enough money, but at least there’s some funds going to it. It’s important, and it’s leading to closure for our survivors. But there needs to be a broader discussion put forward. I’m a big supporter of bringing the children home and getting to the bottom of this but I question the chiefs of Ontario who are spearheading a lot of this to get this work done. We have talked about potential criminal investigations … I question whether we should be rushing into this without the due diligence of determining if our actions will impact any criminal piece.”