A memorial erected in Fort Providence to remember people buried in an unmarked cemetery, including children who attended the local residential school. Photo: Albert Lafferty
Warning: This report contains references to the death of Indigenous children who attended residential schools.
The Northwest Territories’ chief coroner says more collaboration is needed to release records about children who attended residential schools in the territory.
Garth Eggenberger made the comments while testifying before the StandingSenate Committee on Indigenous Peoples last week, as first reported by NNSL.
“Without ongoing collaboration, we will not be able to meet the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action 71,” he said, referring to the call for chief coroners to release records on the deaths of Indigenous children in the care of residential school authorities.
According to an interim report published by the Senate committee in July, while the NWT government has committed to transfer residential school records to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (or NCTR), several records – including vital statistics, coroners’ reports and death certificates – remain outstanding.
Eggenberger said part of the issue is that while his office holds coroner records for the NWT from September 1967 onward, as well as some files from 1954 to 1967, coroner records from confederation to 1967 are housed at archives in Ottawa, which are more difficult to access. He said his office has not investigated those records as it is beyond the capacity of staff.
Another challenge, Eggenberger said, is that people from the territory are sometimes sent south for medical treatment. If they die while outside the NWT, he said, accessing records in another jurisdiction can be difficult for his office.
“Cooperation is the biggest key here,” he said.
In 2013, at the request of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Eggenberger said his office reviewed all child deaths among records dating from 1955 to 1992. At the same time, he said, such deaths were reviewed among files at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre covering 1957 to 1992.
Of the 360 deaths identified, Eggenberger said five children were deemed to have died while attending residential schools or living in a federally operated hostel. He said his office provided the commission with a spreadsheet of those deaths.
This July, he said, his office became aware of the NCTR’s website and began comparing the names of people who attended residential school in the NWT with coroners’ files. Through that process, he said, staff identified one additional death, and his office is continuing to compare that information.
“It’s very important that there be a collaboration between the Office of the Chief Coroner of the Northwest Territories and other parties that may have documentation with names of persons that attended residential school in the Northwest Territories, and to provide those names to our office,” he said.
Also testifying to the Senate committee last week was Dr Dirk Huyer, the chief coroner for Ontario. He said the province completed a similar investigation to the NWT and provided a spreadsheet to the NCTR. He said his office also plans to provide the files themselves.
Huyer noted those cases do not encompass all children who may have died while attending residential school. He said, for example, that deaths due to infections and disease are not typically reported to coroners across Canada.
The National Indian Residential School crisis line provides 24-hour crisis support to former residential school students and their families toll-free at 1-866-925-4419.
Individuals affected by the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls can contact the MMIWG crisis line toll-free at 1-844-413-6649.
First Nations, Inuit and Métis seeking immediate emotional support can contact the Hope for Wellness helpline toll-free at 1-855-242-3310 or online.