Understanding the Calls to Action about the deaths of Indigenous children in residential schools

Posted by: Balsom Team

Content warning: This article relates to Indian Residential Schools

The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to all Indigenous people.

In acknowledgement of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and in light of recent events regarding the confirmation of unmarked graves at residential schools, we want to provide our readers with some resources. For those of us who went to school when residential schools and Indigenous rights were not commonly discussed, it can be hard to wrap our minds around the significance of these events.

The 94 Calls to Action is a document created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The document includes 94 statements that describe what all levels of the Canadian government must do to begin the process of reconciliation with Indigenous communities. 

Our goal in this article below is to make information about the 94 Calls to Action more accessible to our community. For many non-Indigenous people, it can be difficult to understand that these current issues directly impact our daily lives. Reconciliation affects how we interact with our Indigenous friends and neighbours, how governments, organizations, and businesses operate and perform.  We must all learn about the reality of what happened in residential schools so that Canada can move toward reconciliation with its Indigenous peoples. This is an individual responsibility as much as it is a government and corporate one.

Calls to Action 71 through 76 talk about how we should handle information about the deaths of Indigenous children in residential schools. These points urge that any documents containing information regarding children’s deaths in residential schools be given to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). The NCTR would then examine the documents and search for any hidden information.

Information about these deaths has been kept secret for decades now. Survivors of residential schools have been left wondering where their friends and family went or whether they survived at all. The NCTR would handle any information given to them according to the wishes of affected Indigenous communities. In addition, a lot of this information would become available to the public and would help promote awareness. Releasing this information will allow for better documentation of the horrors of residential schools. This is the first step toward reconciliation.


Here are the specific Calls to Action:

71. We call upon all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. 

72. We call upon the federal government to allocate sufficient resources to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to allow it to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 

73. We call upon the federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children. 

74. We call upon the federal government to work with the churches and Aboriginal community leaders to inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child’s burial location, and to respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home communities where requested. 

75. We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children. 

76. We call upon the parties engaged in the work of documenting, maintaining, commemorating, and protecting residential school cemeteries to adopt strategies in accordance with the following principles: 

i. The Aboriginal community most affected shall lead the development of such strategies.

ii. Information shall be sought from residential school Survivors and other Knowledge Keepers in the development of such strategies.

iii. Aboriginal protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site.


What’s our progress?

According to IndigenousWatchdog.org and CBC News, Calls to Action 71, 73, 74, 75, and 76 are in progress with projects proposed; Call to Action 72 is in progress with its project underway.


What can I do to help?

These Calls to Action are made for the Government of Canada to follow, so the most that the average citizen can do is take political action. Research the platforms of political parties and leaders, and vote for those who will protect and uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples. You can also sign government petitions and send letters to political leaders and their opposition.

Even though the 94 Calls to Action are made for the federal government, you can also contact your municipal and provincial governments and find out what they are doing to help the local Indigenous communities.

Here is a list of people that you may wish to contact about Missing Children and Burial Information:


Key Terms

Knowledge Keepers: according to QueensU.ca: someone who has been taught by an Elder or a senior Knowledge Keeper within their community. This person holds traditional knowledge and teachings, they have been taught how to care for these teachings and when it is and is not appropriate to share this knowledge with others.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation: a centre dedicated to research and education regarding the understanding of Residential Schools.

National Residential School Student Death Register: a collection of information regarding the death of students within the Residential School System.

Survivors: those who have endured and survived the Residential School system.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: A centre located at the University of Manitoba dedicated to informing all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). Now dissolved and included in the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR).






Memorial at Jubilee Plaza for Residential School victims. Photo by Michael Jesso