Last Updated: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 | 5:41 PM CT
A research project on missing and deceased students from Canada's residential schools has an uncertain future, following the recent resignation of Justice Harry LaForme from the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The project, which is being proposed by a working group of historians and representatives from aboriginal organizations, churches and government, aims to examine how many children died, went missing, or are buried in unmarked graves at residential schools across the country from the late 1800s through much of the 1900s.
CBC News has learned that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission approved the project before LaForme quit as the commission's chairman in October, but it did not allocate any funds or approve a budget to start the work.
With the commission's work now stalled as a result of LaForme's resignation, it remains to be seen if and when the group's research can begin.
That research requires an extensive examination of all existing records from churches and government, as well as information provided by former students and staff.
Historian John Milloy, who is part of the working group, estimates they need to obtain and pore over 750 metres of paperwork from 60 archival sites across Canada.
"We know those files are incomplete, so we're not going to have a complete list of all the children ... that died," Milloy said in an interview.
"But we will have, with 18 months, two years, five years, we'll have the most complete list you can have."
The research is likely to cost millions of dollars and the revived commission will need to decide whether to spend that kind of money.
Milloy said the working group wants to answer a number of questions: "Firstly, identify the extent, if that's possible, all the children who died in residential schools and the cause of death," he said.
He added the group also wants to "try to identify all the children that went missing, and finally to investigate the number and nature of the graveyards across the country and who's buried in them."
Milloy added that the project would also investigate if residential school staff followed their own regulations when it came to the care of students.
About 150,000 aboriginal children attended Canada's 130 residential schools from the late 1800s to 1996, when the last school closed. About 80,000 former students are still alive, but an estimated five or six die every day.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established in June, is not charged with determining innocence or guilt, but with creating a historical account of the residential schools, helping people to heal and encouraging reconciliation.
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