The Save the Evidence Fundraising Campaign has raised approximately $573,000 of the $1 million needed to put a new roof on the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School. After less than two years of fundraising and planning, repairs and restoration are expected to begin in the spring.
The campaign is spearheaded by Woodland Cultural Centre’s Outreach Co-ordinator Jessica Powless and Executive Director Janis Monture. The campaign started in 2013, after a major leak caused significant damage to the school.
The Woodland Cultural Centre was called upon by the community of Six Nations to lead the fundraising campaign to restore the school and turn it into a new Canadian Museum of Conscience (CMC) to honour more than 15,000 students who attended the school over the time in which it operated, from 1828 to 1970.
“Our main and primary concern at this point is to repair the roof, as the damage has been significant and costly, and repairs are needed to save the building,” said Powless.
Currently, the Woodland Cultural Centre is developing a Save the Evidence Advisory Committee to help determine the direction of the contents in the building once it has been repaired and restored.
Funding has been received from Six Nations Elected Council, City of Brantford, Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Rotary Club of Brantford Sunrise, as well as other individual donations.
The grassroots Friends & Neighbours group formed as a response to the urgent need of the campaign. The group consists of members from Brantford City Council, workers from Toronto, students from various local communities, as well as staff and faculty from Wilfrid Laurier University who help to advocate and create awareness for the Save the Evidence campaign.
“We are just starting. We haven’t defined what the group is going to do or how it’s going to interact,” said Bonnie Whitlow, Aboriginal student support co-ordinator at Laurier. “We’re waiting for the Woodland Cultural Centre to let us know how they want to support them.”
“Our mindset is to support what the Woodland Centre group wants to do,” said Raymond D’Astous, member of the Friends & Neighbours group. “That’s the goal…to find a way to support the centre in preserving the residential school.”
The Six Nations Elected Council kickstarted the fundraising campaign by donating $220,000 in March 2014. Since then, many people have gotten involved in the preservation of the site. The city donated $220,000 in June 2015.
The building is the oldest residential school in Canada. Starting in 1828, it lasted close to 150 years and closed down in June 1970, when the last student left the school. Run by the New England Company, the Anglican Church of Canada and the federal government, the school at its peak housed 185 students a year.
It reopened in 1972 as the Woodland Cultural Centre, a non-profit organization that preserves and promotes First Nations culture and heritage. Currently, there are over 10,000 visitors to the Mohawk Institute every year. It houses an art gallery, museum, library and education and language departments.
There were over 128 Indian residential schools in Canada. Of the 128, 16 of them operated in Ontario. The Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School is one of fewer than 10 still standing.
“As one of only a handful of Indian residential schools left standing, the Mohawk Institute is a significant historical site that needs to be saved and preserved…. The site continues to make a large cultural impact and provides the opportunity to learn about this often overlooked era of Canadian history,” said Powless.