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FORUM: It’s time to walk the walk (June 2021)

July 15th, 2021 · No Comments

Action not just “reflection” is needed as more burial sites are found

By Mike Layton

The discovery of several burial sites of Indigenous children killed in residential schools across Canada must move our country and our governments beyond words of condolences and toward actions that advance truth, reconciliation, and justice. As flags are lowered across the country, and vigils and moments of silence are observed, we need to recognize that these symbolic measures are important, but not nearly enough.

Residential schools operating in Canada for more than 160 years, up until the late 1990s, were federally funded and church-run. The last school closed in 1996.

Children stolen. Families are broken. Communities, robbed. This discovery has retraumatized many First Nations, Métis and Inuit across Turtle Island, who have long been dealing with the intergenerational trauma and lasting impacts of being forcibly removed from their families and communities, put into residential and day schools, and forced to abandon their traditions, cultural practices and languages in order to assimilate them.

The discoveries are shocking and disturbing, but all was predicted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TSC) and the Calls for Justice from the MMIWG2S Final Report – Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  Not enough resources have been committed to continuing their work and taking necessary steps towards reconciliation

We must recommit to advancing these Calls for Action. These actions must be far-reaching and must work to advance access to housing, clean water, prosperity and justice for all Indigenous people, in partnership with Indigenous communities. The dedication to reaching these goals must last longer than a news cycle.

The TRC made recommendations on efforts governments, justice systems, and church officials should take to try to locate, name, and commemorate the children who died. Six of these recommendations specifically list the actions the commission determined should be done to address missing children and burial information, including funding and coordination support to locate and protect school burial sites, both known and unknown.

In council I worked with the mayor to pass the following recommendations to move us toward truth, reconciliation and justice:

First we requested the federal and provincial governments to support Call to Action 82 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. More specifically, we asked for capital funding to the construction of Indian Residential School Survivors (IRSS) Restoration of Identity Project on Nathan Phillips Square – this is a publicly accessible, highly visible, residential schools monument to honour survivors and families. It could be replicated in every provincial capital. It is being completed in partnership with Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.

In addition, earlier this year, city council allocated $13 million towards the construction of the Spirit Garden to honour residential and day school survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities, and those that are living with the trauma. The Spirit Garden will be a peaceful, contemplative space to help advance truth and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Toronto.  

We also requested the federal and provincial governments to take action now on Calls 71 to 76 of the TRC to address missing children and burial information, including funding and coordinating support to locate and protect school burial sites, both known and unknown. 

Finally, we joined the House of Commons in calling on the federal government to drop the Federal Court appeals related to compensation for First Nations children separated from their families.

On a local level, city council requested the Director, Indigenous Affairs office, in consultation with relevant staff, to report to the Aboriginal Affairs advisory committee and executive committee on what further actions are needed to advance truth, reconciliation and justice, how the city will hold itself accountable to community in advancing these actions, and whether additional resources and funding are required to further the City of Toronto’s work on reconciliation.

I will work to update you on advances to these actions as things progress.

As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with my office with your questions or concerns at

Mike Layton is the city councillor for Ward 11, University—Rosedale.


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