How the son of Shingwauk survivors came back to lead the search for unmarked graves

Jay Jones, a designer for General Motors, left everything he knew in the U.S. for six months to work on the grounds of Algoma University, the same site where both his parents attended, and survived, Shingwauk Residential School

Jay Jones remembers the day he was asked by survivors to lead the search for unmarked burials on the former site of Shingwauk Residential School.

It was just days after news broke that 215 potential unmarked burials were identified at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C. and came following a virtual meeting where Jones was serving as president of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, a group made up of Shingwauk survivors and their family members. 

“Each single survivor ended their sharing portion with, ‘We need to do a search at Shingwauk,’ and then I was the last to share, and I agreed with what everybody said,” Jones recalled. “With my mom and my dad both gone now, I felt it was necessary to continue their efforts that they had done for so long.” 

Little did Jones know that he would eventually end up relocating to Sault Ste. Marie to do just that — taking an extended leave from his job as a designer for General Motors in Michigan for a period of six months in order to live on the grounds of the former residential school, now the grounds of Algoma University.    

His parents, the late Vernon and Susie Jones of Walpole Island First Nation, an Anishinaabe community situated on the Ontario side of the Canada-U.S. border and south of Sarnia, were survivors of the Shingwauk Residential School, which was operated by the Anglican Church from 1875 until its closure in 1970.

His mother attended the school from the age of four until she was 16 years old.


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