Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
National Chief RoseAnne Archibald took to the world stage April 25 to reiterate the Assembly of First Nations’ (AFN) call for a United Nations special rapporteur to investigate the findings of children’s graves on and around the sites of former residential schools.
“Canada must not be allowed to investigate itself,” said Archibald in a news conference today from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York.
“It was their legislation and policies that created these institutions and so they can't investigate themselves. They're not impartial. They're in a conflict of interest.”
Archibald drew attention to the difficulties First Nations are having in obtaining records from the federal and provincial governments and churches, who operated Indian residential schools for more than a century.
“That's been a real struggle in Canada, to get those files on those children who attended those institutions and didn't make it home. So that's why we are calling on the special rapporteur as somebody who is outside of Canada who can be impartial and do a proper investigation of the genocide that has occurred in Canada, particularly with respect to our children,” said Archibald.
The AFN formalized its call for a special rapporteur last December when they passed a resolution “Demanding justice and accountability for the missing and unidentified children of residential schools.” The resolution was introduced by Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimer of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. It was at the former Kamloops residential school that 215 unmarked graves were uncovered in May. That was the first uncovering.
A month later, Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan identified 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval residential school.
Since then, said Archibald, seven other locations with unmarked graves have been identified.
“The recovery of our children is not over. We still have over 130 institutions to search. We are seeking justice and accountability from governments and churches. Canada and the other UN member states must not look away,” said Archibald.
The December resolution stated, “…There is serious evidence that Canada and the churches have violated international human rights and humanitarian law through the hiding, damaging, interfering with and destroying of mass graves and the concealment of records and archival material about the schools with an intent to delay or hide identification of the sites.”
“I'm calling on the UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, along with other special rapporteurs, to conduct full-fledged investigations of the circumstances and responsibilities surrounding these institutions, including full redress, criminal prosecutions and sanctions and other remedies for human rights violations including genocide,” said Archibald today.
A resolution was also passed in December to “direct the AFN to seek justice through intervention at the International Criminal Court in this matter, to hold the Imperial Crown, Government of Canada and the Vatican accountable for their actions and to seek justice for the crimes against humanity for the victims’ families and the international community.”
Also on April 25, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller announced that his department had recently obtained records held by a not-for-profit organization that provided health supports to claimants under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The records had been kept in a storage locker in the Northwest Territories.
“The court monitor will report findings to the Courts and recommend appropriate next steps to ensure that all documents containing confidential information are protected in keeping with existing direction from the Courts,” said Miller in a statement.
Other documents are also being reviewed, he said, including some that were previously held in a storage locker in Vancouver. However, it is believed that these are hardcopies of records already shared with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If any new documents are located, Miller said they would be shared with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation if that respects the “Survivors' wishes, legislation, court orders, settlement agreements and ongoing litigation processes.”
Métis National Council (MNC) President Cassidy Caron is also in attendance at the forum. She is expected to meet with federal and international officials “to advance the priorities of the Métis Nation,” said a statement from the MNC.
The theme of this year's UNPFII is "Indigenous peoples, business, autonomy and the human rights principles of due diligence including free, prior and informed consent." The forum runs from April 25 to May 6.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.