An Innu community has obtained federal funds to finance ground-penetrating radar searches around the Maliotenam boarding school, near Sept-Îles, such as those that made it possible to locate 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops last year.
Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, on the North Shore, is one of 34 Indigenous communities in Canada that will share $46.2 million under a federal program designed to facilitate the search for missing children in residential schools.
The funds will be used, among other things, to finance consultations with ex-residents and research with a georadar on the site of the Maliotenam boarding school, says Jean-Claude Therrien-Pinette, head of the political cabinet of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam.
“First, we will map and target places with the survivors. Subsequently, we will carry out the research according to their indications,” he explains.
This is how 215 unmarked graves were spotted on the grounds of a British Columbia boarding school last May, sending shock waves across the country.
Indigenous Services Canada adds that the funding also includes “professional archaeological research services” to delineate burial sites and the organization of activities to commemorate and bring home the remains of missing children.
Memories still vivid
Several former students of the Catholic boarding school in operation from 1952 to 1971 are still alive, which could facilitate excavations.
Children and nuns in front of the boarding school.
Part of the money will be used to hire kubaniesh, “accompanists”.
These former boarders accustomed to working in a helping relationship will conduct interviews with their former classmates to narrow down the research.
“The territory around the boarding school is large, there is forest around it, a cemetery nearby…Are there any witnesses who heard something, who think someone has disappeared?” , asks Mr. Therrien-Pinette.
Given the deep trauma of several former boarders, he assures that the interviews will be done with “the greatest benevolence and accompaniment”. < /p>
“We know that the memory exercise that we ask of survivors is painful… There are people who have spent their lives trying to forget this period of their lives”, he drops.  ;
The former boarders consulted will come from two nations (Innu and Abenaki) and 11 communities.
They will also be asked how they would like to keep the memory of the site of the boarding school, the majority of whose buildings have been destroyed since its closure.
Moreover, the number of disappearances in Maliotenam is difficult to assess since the community does not have access to the list of all the children — between 200 and 300 per year — who attended the boarding school.
At least one little girl named Merilda Napess lost her life there in 1956, according to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.
In any case, “if we want turn the page collectively and individually, we will have to shed light on what really happened,” believes Mr. Therrien-Pinette.
The federal government is examining the grant application from two other Quebec-based Aboriginal communities or organizations but did not want to specify which ones.
Survivors are hesitant
In Chisasibi, as in many other communities, the idea of carrying out ground-penetrating radar searches is far from unanimous among survivors.
Since November, the community has held several heartbreaking consultations with former -residents, who come from as far away as Ontario.
“It's a long process, we wouldn't want to rush anything,” says Paula Napash, vice-chief of Chisasibi, in Nord-du-Québec.
“Those who are against [the idea ] say “it's the past, let's leave it alone”, while those who are in favor think that it will help them to grieve”, she notes.
If the survivors decided to Going ahead with ground penetrating radar searches would nonetheless be complex.
Chisasibi (formerly Fort George) had two residential schools in five different locations, some of which are now covered in debris or on rough terrain.