If you are a residential school survivor, you are able to contact the 24-hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 for support. Indigenous people can also access the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
The provincial governent is committing nearly $500,000 to support community members in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation area with the region’s search of one of the most notorious Indian Residential School locations in Canada.
Ontario and Ottawa have committed $475,000 over two years to support survivors affected by the six former Indian Residential Schools in the NAN territory, including those of St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany First Nation.
Records from the federal government show students at St. Anne’s were subjected to a homemade electric chair, with survivors describing physical, mental and sexual abuse. Legal battles over compensation for survivors continue to this day.
“This funding will help us develop healing initiatives to support our families and communities through community-driven initiatives as they search for their loved ones,” said NAN’s Deputy Grand Chief, Anna Betty Achneepineskum.
“The search for these innocent children will be a painful experience and needs to be done with great care and respect. We look forward to implementing our Reclamation and Healing Strategy and will continue to develop and implement cultural and spiritual mental health supports to support all those who undertake this important work,” she adds.
Achneepineskum adds the strategy will be developed with survivors and will include recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action of 2015. Funding will also support communications and technical supports, as well as public education and awareness initiatives.
“Our government continues to seek direction from Indigenous partners and organizations, like Nishnawbe Aski Nation, to address critical funding needs for Indian Residential School burial investigations and related work,” explains Kenora-Rainy River MPP and Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Greg Rickford.
“Ontario will work to ensure that Indigenous communities have access to available funding to support the full range of important work that lies ahead,” he adds.
St. Anne’s Indian Residential School was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Catholic Church and the Grey Nuns of the Cross in Fort Albany First Nation between 1906 and 1976, with support from the federal government.
Records show that the school was originally located at the Fort Albany Mission on Albany Island in Treaty #9, before relocating to the banks of the Albany River in 1932. The school burned down in 1939 and was later rebuilt.
First Nations youth from Fort Albany, Attawapiskat, Weenusk, Constance Lake, Moose Fort and Fort Severn all attended the school.
In 1992, Former Chief of Fort Albany First Nation, Edmund Metatawabin, presented evidence to Ontario’s provincial police about abuse at the former school, prompting a six-year investigation.
The OPP’s work led to seven former St. Anne’s teachers and administrators being arrested in 1998, with 156 survivors receiving some form of compensation by 2004 – two years before the historic Indian Residential Schools Settlement of 2006.
Documents from the investigation were released in 2014 after an Ontario Superior Court judge ordered the federal government to disclose them to survivors and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But by that time, the federal government had already redacted over 12,000 documents from the record – which denied many survivors any amount of compensation.
Still, the documents that were released by Ottawa revealed the use of a homemade electric chair being used between the 1950s and 1960s, with a variety of reports of disturbing physical and sexual abuse such as beatings, rancid food, disappearances and much more.
“Innocent children were malnourished, physically assaulted, sexually abused, and tortured. They went to bed hungry and lived in fear of a homemade electric chair. Some were forced to eat their own vomit,” said NAN leadership, as they described St. Anne survivors’ experiences.
Through the OPP’s lengthy investigation, which included over 700 interviews with former St. Anne’s students, only five of the seven former employees were convicted and only two of them ever saw jail time.
Records of those charges were also redacted by Ottawa, but convicted staff members included two kitchen workers, a childcare worker and two nuns. The longest sentence given was 18 months.
Former Chief Metatawabin later shared his experiences at the school publicly in his memoir, Up Ghost River: A Chief’s Journey Through the Turbulent Waters of Native History, in 2014 – becoming a voice for other survivors. He later received the Order of Canada honour in 2018.
As of 2020, it’s been estimated that the federal government has spent over $3 million fighting against survivors of St. Anne’s through court battles surrounding the documents and further compensation. The legal battle is ongoing, with the latest case taking place two years ago.
The school property was also the site of a brief RCMP search in 1941, after three boys drowned while attempting to escape the school.
14-year-old John Kioki, 11-year-old Michel Martinas and 13-year-old Michael Sutherland were said to have left the school on April 19, 1941, and only one staff member was sent to search for them that day. The search ended when a storm hit on day two.
The RCMP and Indian Affairs were not informed of the boys’ disappearance until June 6, 1941. A group of local residents found the boys’ supplies near the Chickney River weeks later. The boys are assumed to have drowned and their bodies were never recovered.
The remainder of the school burnt down in 2015. The site is now a water treatment plant and a construction material storage depot. The federal and provincial governments committed $1.3 million to search the site earlier this year.
Canada’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says their records show at least 24 students passed away while attending the school throughout its 70 years in operation.
In memory of former St. Anne’s students:
- Abraham Moses Nakogee
- Alexandra Chookomoolin
- Anna Aitel
- Antoine Wisk
- Charles Hunter (Fort Albany)
- Emile Anishinape
- Emilien Aitel
- Gabriel Carpenter
- Imelda Edwards
- Jennie Kostachin
- John Kioki
- Joseph Metat
- Josephine Chookomoolin
- Madeline Sutherland
- Margaret Sutherland
- Matheiu Kamascatishishit
- Michael Sutherland
- Michel Matinas
- Raphael Katakwapit
- Raphael Tomykatie
- Sabeth Sutherland
- Sabeth Wabano
- Simeon Ashnipinishkam
- Therese Okitigo
Additional photos of the school throughout its history can be found through Algoma University HERE.
Nation-wide, the federal government operated Indian Residential Schools for over 140 years, stripping roughly 150,000 Indigenous children of their culture and subjecting an estimated 38,000 children to serious physical and sexual abuse during their time through the system.
Canada’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says their records show at least 4,127 children were lost through the residential school system as of the end of 2021, prior to them receiving additional outstanding records from the federal government.
Canada collectively started to pay attention to the dark history of the residential school system in 2021, after leadership of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site, using ground-penetrating radar.
Their discovery prompted First Nation communities across Canada to begin looking for their lost children using the same technology.
Ottawa has since pledged more than $326 million to search all remaining residential school sites. Ontario has also pledged $20 million over a three-year span to identify, investigate and commemorate all 18 residential school burial sites across the province.
Deputy Grand Chief Achneepineskum has also recently spoken about the need for the Roman Catholic Church to develop a plan to address the harm done to survivors of the Indian Residential School System, after this month’s apology from the Pope.