Our Year In Review

On December 5th, 2023, the Survivors’ Secretariat hosted the Second Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the Six Nations Community Hall. The AGM provided an opportunity for the Secretariat’s Board Members and Secretariat Lead, Laura Arndt to report on and celebrate the accomplishments of the 2022/2023 fiscal year. 

The Thanksgiving Address was delivered by local youth, Rowan Smith, and opening remarks were provided by Secretariat Board Member Diane Hill. A holiday meal was served followed by a thank you and recognition presentation for the many people and organizations who made financial and/or in-kind contributions in the 2022/2023 year. Audited financial statements were presented by Whitney Deane CPA, CA and partner of Millard’s Chartered Professional Accountants. 

A Year of Transition

Secretariat Lead, Laura Arndt described the year as a “Year of Transition” as Survivors’ Secretariat saw important changes in terms of leadership, staffing, funding, and the focus of the investigation into unmarked burials.  

The 2022/2023 reporting was anchored in the Secretariat’s four pillars – Advocacy, Ground Search, Commemoration and Document Collection. Each Pillar was used to highlight and emphasize the urgency and importance of our work of “Bringing Our Children Home.” 

The Secretariat Lead highlighted some key milestones for the 2022/2023 fiscal year, which included:  

  • Interim funding for the 2021-2022 year of $1.3 million was fully repaid to the Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council.  
  • Supplementary funding was provided by National Indian Brotherhood Trust to create the Youth-led Ground Search Initiative to aid the search for missing children and unmarked burials.  
  • A total of 9.6 acres of the Mohawk Institute grounds was scanned, representing 1.5% of the total search area.   
  •  93% of the 20,000 archived documents obtained by the Secretariat and Know History have been reviewed and tagged. 
  • The Secretariat partnered with Animikii to begin to design searchable database solutions for storing all records and documents obtained by the Secretariat.   
  • The Secretariat co-hosted its first annual Survivors of the Mohawk Institute Gathering with Mohawk Village Memorial Park and Woodland Cultural Center.   
  • Survivors and Secretariat staff attended 5 conferences related to the search for unmarked burials.   

About the Investigation

In February 2023, the decision was made by the Secretariat to end the criminal investigation. It was announced that the search had shifted to a coroner’s investigation in the Spring of 2023.   

Six Nations Police Chief Darren Montour provided updates on the Multijurisdictional Police Task Force (MJPTF) who completed a review of the 48 known deaths originally reported by the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation. A report summarizing their investigation is forthcoming.  

 “I felt it was my job as police chief to look into this for you and provide answers.” – Darren Montour, Six Nations, Chief of Police.  

Ontario’s Chief Coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer, joined the meeting virtually and stated that he will continue the coroner’s investigation and continue to work with the Survivors’ Secretariat to determine how many children died, when or where they died and where they are buried. 

A primary step to ground search also includes incorporating records, documents and oral histories to give historical context to the land being searched. According to the historical archives and records collected to date, 96 children are known to have died while attending the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School. This number has doubled from what the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation initially reported. 

 It is estimated that up to 15,000 or more children attended the school, the number of deaths is likely to evolve as more documents are uncovered and reviewed. To date, the Secretariat has accessed more than 30 archives and repositories, with researchers reviewing and tagging over 18,600 documents. 

“The truth needs to be told, the Survivors’, their families and their communities deserve answers as to what happened at the Mohawk Institute in their lifetime. This is not just a Six Nations conversation; this is a conversation that spans this country. Survivors want answers and they want the answers in their lifetime.” – Laura Arndt, Secretariat Lead

The Secretariat has discovered that our ground search efforts utilize various technologies not originally intended for this type of work but are being modified to assist in finding unmarked burials, as Survivors and communities strive for the truth to be told. 

Due to the extensive data collection and analysis process, it will take several years to build community capacity through partnerships with experts in archeology, anthropology, and geophysics. The Secretariat understands the magnitude of the work that must happen and knows the funding currently provided by the government is not enough. The Secretariat continues to seek additional funding opportunities and grants to support the Secretariat to continue the critically important work of truth telling.  

The AGM concluded with Survivor Gary Miller sharing his art collection named ‘The Gary Miller Art Project’. His candid presentation, Miller reflected on his lived experience and dark memories while attending the Mush Hole. “Some people say the nickname ‘Mush Hole’ came from the bad food they served the children, but I think it’s because of what they did to our minds, turned them into mush,” – Gary Miller.   

Gary attended the school for 11 years and in his later years he began channeling his memories and angst into artwork. Although many of the Institute’s staff have passed, Gary believes that the perpetrators are now answering to Creator. The Secretariat has supported Gary’s mobile art exhibition as part of our education and commemoration work. We extend our appreciation to Gary for continuing to share his truths and for his commitment in collaborating with the Secretariat. 

Nia:weh, Miigwetch, thank you to our partners, financial donors, impacted communities, staff and Survivors for your continued support and commitment. The Secretariat is truly grateful for your confidence in our efforts to Uncover, Document and Share the truths of the Mohawk Institute during its 140+ years of operation.  

“Our resilience is strong, and our voice is getting stronger” – Diane Hill