'No school I ever attended had children buried in unmarked graves'
Indigenous peoples use UN meeting to insist world court investigates Canadian government's role in residential boarding school deaths.
Canadian First Nations, Métis and Inuit citizens are using the current session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) to make sure their country and the world knows that further action should be taken on the atrocities surrounding Canadian residential boarding schools.
Background: Indigenous peoples in Canada were required to attend Christian boarding schools, funded by the government’s Department of Indian Affairs, from 1894 to 1947. Such schools continued running until 1997, with some operated by churches themselves. 150k students are estimated to have attended. Indigenous peoples have noted that the schools tried to assimilate them by force and abuse. Based on archaeological research, there are estimates of up to 30,000 deaths at such schools, but an exact number isn’t known.
Reconciliation: After years of work by Indigenous peoples, Canada in 2007 began implementation of its Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (totaling C$1.9 billion), purported to be the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history. The agreement created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada “to facilitate reconciliation among former students, their families, their communities and all Canadians.” Through 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission received $72 million from the Canadian government. Officials with the commission visited Indigenous communities throughout Canada, hearing from more than 6,500 witnesses.
5 million records regarding the system, which are now housed at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
94 recommendations for reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.
A conclusion that the residential boarding school system amounted to cultural genocide.
A few apologies.
October 30, 2021 marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation honoring the lost children and survivors of such schools.
Fast forward: Last year, thousands of unmarked graves on grounds of residential boarding schools began receiving widespread media attention. Previously, Indigenous peoples had known their children had died or gone missing while forced to attend the schools, and some believed graves must exist at at least some of the schools.
UNPFII 2022: RoseAnne Archibald, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, calls Canadian boarding schools “institutions of assimilation and genocide…designed to kill the Indian and the child….”
“I don’t call them schools anymore, because no school I ever attended had children buried in unmarked graves,” Archibald said, adding that “thousands and thousands of our children died in these institutions.”
More to be done: Indigenous peoples say they are seeking increased justice and accountability from the government and churches. “We invite the world community to stand with First Nations to listen, learn and reflect on this tragedy that is shared by the U.S. and Australia, who also had similar institutions,” said Archibald, a citizen of the Taykwa Tagamou Nation.
Further: Archibald reiterated a request originally made last year that the UN investigate Canada’s involvement in the residential school system. “Full redress, criminal prosecutions, sanctions and other remedies for human rights violations, including genocide” are among her calls to action. “Canada must not be allowed to investigate itself,” she said. She’s also asking the International Criminal Court to investigate.
Canada agrees: Justice Minster and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti has said that the Canadian government would cooperate with a UN investigation.
U.S. watching: Members of the Democratic National Committee Native Caucus recently called on U.S. lawmakers to immediately schedule hearings on new legislation called the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act. The American government is very likely to find similar horror stories as those in Canada when and if it chooses to begin its own reconciliation process.
“There are boarding school survivors who are waiting and willing to tell their stories right now, in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Samuel Torres, deputy CEO of the National Native American Boarding School (NABS) Healing Coalition, during a virtual meeting of the DNC Native Caucus held on April 20. “The time to act with regard to this legislation is right now – we don’t have more time to be able to wait to find out when is a better time.”
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