The federal government will substantially increase funding to permit Indigenous communities to search former residential school sites for unmarked graves, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said today.
Miller said the $27.1 million already committed for searches was an initial figure and will grow.
“We know it will be a lot,” Miller told CBC News.
“Clearly, given the demands that are coming in, have come in, and knowing what may be out there, there will be a need for more financial backing and we’ll obviously be there.”
Miller said he couldn’t confirm whether Ottawa gave Cowessess First Nation money to conduct a ground-penetrating radar search at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School, about 140 kilometres east of Regina.
The First Nation today announced a preliminary finding of 751 unmarked graves at the site.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations confirmed the search was funded by $4.88 million the federal government gave the Saskatchewan organization.
Miller said the government had known for some time about what Cowessess First Nation found beneath the site, but it still came as a shock.
“It took my breath away, despite knowing this was coming,” Miller said.
“We’ve told [Cowessess] Chief [Cadmus] Delorme in no uncertain terms that the Government of Canada will be there for them financially and with any other assets that we have on their terms.”
WATCH: Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller reacts to report of unmarked graves
Miller said the government is willing to support an inquiry into unmarked burial sites at former residential school sites.
“We’ve always been open to it,” he said. “We don’t want to stand in the way”
A growing number of Indigenous groups, including the FSIN, are calling for an independent inquiry.
“Now, it’s time for action,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron told host David Cochrane on CBC’s Power and Politics.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and for those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.