Ottawa launches residential school interactive map to help burial search

Ottawa has released a new interactive online map with the locations of former residential schools meant to identify unmarked graves as the majority of residential school buildings have been demolished.

The Indian Residential Schools Interactive Map allows the public to locate where the former buildings stood and includes historical and contemporary aerial photos.

The interactive map excludes Indian hospitals, tuberculosis sanatoriums, day schools or boarding schools that were not funded by the federal government.

There are currently over 100 Indigenous communities involved in residential school grave searches.

According to independent special interlocutor for missing children in unmarked burials Kimberly Murray,, these communities had to pay to access aerial maps from libraries and obtain records through access-to-information requests from the government. 

“The more information that is out there for communities, the better,” Murray told CBC News. “But I do think that Canada hasn’t gone far enough in what it’s made available.”

Murray believes that these maps will help combat misinformation and disinformation around residential schools, or so-called “denialism.”

“Maps like that provided by government sources … helps to kind of confront those claims of very often very malicious misinformation or disinformation that arises,” said Logan.

The renewed interest in residential schools came after media outlets began reporting that the remains of 215 children were discovered at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. in 2021.

The story immediately spread internationally, however, three years later, no remains of bodies have been recovered and the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation has even admitted that “anomalies” had been discovered but not graves.

“It’s absurd to think that better maps will help to counter so-called ‘denialism.’ Those of us who are skeptical about unproven claims of ‘unmarked graves’ and ‘missing children’ are interested in establishing historical facts, so we certainly aren’t opposed to having better maps,” Tom Flanagan, senior fellow with the MacDonald-Laurier Institute told True North. 

“They may prove to be useful for all sorts of research.” 

“However, the maps, no matter how good they are, are unlikely to establish very much in the way of facts about graves and children,” said Flanagan. “Despite all the GPR searches, not one unmarked grave has been found outside the limits of well-known cemeteries. Nor do we have the name of even one missing child. There may be a lot of FORGOTTEN graves and children, but they didn’t just disappear.”

Flanagan acknowledged that some children who died of sickness or accident while attending residential schools may likely be buried far from their home reserves. 

“If their gravesites have been forgotten, locating them might bring a feeling of closure to some families, but do they really propose to dig them up and rebury them on their home reserves?  What about all the talk of Sacred Ground that we’ve heard?” asked Flanagan.

He suggested the construction of a cairn or memorial of some kind, as was done for the cemetery of the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton, the St. Albert cemetery cairn would be a better option.  

“By promising $320 million to look for graves, the federal government is subsidizing an industry that is largely pointless and in fact has negative value, because it will keep feeding legends about unmarked graves and missing children, thus stoking resentment and even hatred of Canada,” said Flanagan.

Approximately 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend government-funded residential schools under the Indian Act beginning in the 1830’s and many were subjected to physical and sexual abuse while there.

Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hadju declined to comment on this story, however, in a press release Hadju said that the maps will empower survivors and their communities. 

“People in Canada for too long have had the truth of colonialism hidden from them, harming us all, and delaying the healing that is essential to our country’s health and prosperity,” said Hajdu.

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