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Shingwauk survivors' funding proposal for unmarked burial search stalled

Funders asking why Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, Garden River First Nation, are trying to access the same pot of money
A collection of shoes on the steps of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School in May 2021 pay tribute to the 215 children whose remains were discovered at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Two proposals, both trying to access the same pot of federal and provincial dollars earmarked for unmarked residential school burials, have been submitted for the Sault Ste. Marie area. 

While Garden River First Nation recently managed to secure an undisclosed amount of money to start its project as part of a three-year funding commitment from both levels of government, the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) - made up of Shingwauk Indian Residential School survivors and their families - says its own project is currently stalled due to lingering questions from potential funders.  

“We’re just trying to sort it all out with the government why Garden River said it’s not part of our proposal,” said Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association President Irene Barbeau, speaking with SooToday from Ottawa Monday. “We actually, right from the get-go, asked them to join us, and they refused. 

“They never responded to our communications with them.”

CSAA has already completed the first three phases of its seven-phase plan to search the ground of the former Shingwauk site, located on the campus of present-day Algoma University, for remains of children who attended residential school at the site. 

A ground-penetrating radar search began on campus in late September of last year, with Norpro Environmental offering its services to the survivors group free of charge for the initial three phases of the search.

“At this time, we’re presently waiting for the final report of the data collection, and we haven’t received it yet,” Barbeau said. 

When asked about a potential overlap in funding proposals, Barbeau says she believes that CSAA will get some money due to its status as a grassroots survivors group, regardless of Garden River’s project. 

“Because they’re not part of our proposal, I guess they get what they get, and we get what we get. That would be up to the government, if they see it as an overlap or something,” said Barbeau. “That puts everything in a difficult situation, because we never thought about a scenario like this.

“It just never dawned on me that they would do something like that.”

Garden River First Nation Ogimaw Andy Rickard says his First Nation’s community-led project will design and develop community-based support programs directly impacted on survivors and inter-generational family survivors. 

He also says that Garden River First Nation is part of the Shingwauk Education Trust, a “legal entity that holds responsibility and jurisdiction over our trust lands and has the legal obligation to care for the current burial grounds and trust lands.”

“Garden River's top priority has always been protecting its interests and its survivors and taking the time needed to do things right. I'm not concerned with the issue of overlapping interests, ultimately this is about caring for all survivors,” said Rickard, in an email to SooToday Monday. “I do appreciate the work that has been done so far by organizations such as CSAA. This is not a competition and at the end of the day it is our hope that the two projects continue to reveal the many truths.”  

The CSAA, meanwhile, developed a series of protocols in December in terms of how it will proceed once the group receives the results of the first round of ground-penetrating radar searches at the Shingwauk site. 

An upcoming meeting in late February will deal with protocols around the memorialization of unmarked burials should any be confirmed. The other phases of the ground-penetrating radar search will continue once the snow is gone. 

“My concern as a survivor is that we do it with dignity and respect to those unmarked graves, regardless of who’s doing it,” Barbeau said.