Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 75: Missing Children and Burial Information (71-76)

First Nations, governments sign memorandum of understanding for Bringing Our Children Home initiative

October 21, 2022

Initiative searching for missing children who attended Pelican Lake Indian Residential School

James Cutfeet, director of operations with Bikiiwewinig Nindawaashishiiminaanak Initiative, or Bringing Our Children Home, said ground searchers of the former Pelican Lake Indian Residential School site will hopefully take place next summer. (Kris Ketonen/CBC)

CBC: An initiative aimed at locating missing children who attended Pelican Lake Indian Residential School took a step forward this week, with First Nations and government signing a memorandum of understanding in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The Bikiiwewinig Nindawaashishiiminaanak Initiative, or Bringing Our Children Home, is made up of 33 First Nations, and led by Lac Seul First Nation.

“We had wanted to sign two documents tonight,” James Cutfeet, Bikiiwewinig Nindawaashishiiminaanak director of operations said during an event held at Thunder Bay’s Delta hotel on Thursday evening. “One is the reaffirmation of relationship with the governments of Ontario and Canada, and the other one is the Memorandum of Understanding of our partnership between Lac Seul, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, and the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council.”

However, only the memorandum of understanding was signed Thursday, with the reaffirmation signing being deferred until March.

Survivors of Pelican Lake Indian Residential School have played an important part in the initiative, Cutfeet said.

5 protocols

“The survivors have been convening since the first week of June 2020, and we had two more gatherings in July,” he said. “The purpose of those gatherings was to identify the protocols that need to be developed so that the initiative goes in a good way.”

The survivors have developed five protocols, Cutfeet said: truth, reclamation, reconciliation, search, and healing.

“The survivors are amazing, and within those three gatherings, in two months, they drafted the protocols,” he said. “They’re pretty comprehensive, and those will be the ones that we will be taking to the north when we have community engagements.”

One of the survivors involved is Joyce Begg of Kingfisher Lake First Nation, who spoke at Thursday’s event. “We had discussions on what we experienced at residential schools,” Begg told CBC News. “We shared our stories first. And then we started talking about healing, how we should begin healing. 

And then we have developed five protocols.”

Begg said she’s happy to see the initiative moving forward. “Residential school was a topic that wasn’t talked about much, never mind healing,” she said. “I’m really glad that this organization, Bringing Our Children Home, is existing.”

“There’s a lot of survivors who never disclosed their stories, a lot of them just kept it inside,” Begg said. “But it has helped a lot of people to help disclosing some.”

“It’s a small step. Some are still unable to talk about their story, but there’s some of us who have been able to share our stories of what happened,” she said. “We have a common experience as survivors, and so there’s the trust that’s taking place. We are able to talk about it because of the bonding we’ve had.”

Cutfeet said the initiative has developed a timeline that will hopefully see a search of the Pelican Lake site take place next summer.

He said the search will happen “once we have gathered stories from the survivors, and map overlays are done, so they are the guide as to where the searches will happen.”

“What this does for a lot of the family members, the survivors, and the communities, is it brings closure,” he said. “Once they know where their family members were buried, at least they will know.”