Indigenous-Led Effort to Identify
There are many calls for Canada to fully fund an investigation to be led by Indigenous peoples to uncover records and graves of as many as 25,000 Indigenous children who died at the hands of the Canadian state and its Residential School System between 1870 and 1996.
In a June 18 interview with the Globe and Mail, former Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Chair Murray Sinclair, also a former judge and Senator, pointedly stated that such an investigation must not be in the hands of the Canadian government, the churches or the police all of whom were directly involved in organizing and managing the Residential School System, and have all been implicated in cover-ups to prevent the truth of these crimes from coming to light. He stated the main purpose of the investigation would be to determine what happened to these missing children, who they were and how they died, and to recover the records, most of which the various churches involved had not yet released. He noted when the TRC requested to see what records were in government hands, it was simply told that the records no longer existed, but there was no means to verify this.
He also added that the purpose of the investigation “should be to determine whether crimes occurred, not only in terms of the cause of death, but whether crimes occurred in terms of cover-ups too.”
Sinclair noted that the paltry sum of $27 million proposed by the Trudeau Liberals in the wake of the discovery of 215 Indigenous children whose bodies were found on May 27 on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School, was inadequate to undertake a thorough investigation into the matter. He suggested that it may cost up to $1 million or more just to investigate each of the more than 138 residential school grounds where some 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were sent after being forcefully removed from their families and communities. Mr. Sinclair also added that there were 1,300 other schools in Canada where Indigenous children were sent where a number would also have died. He pointed out that the names and remains of all of these children, innocent victims of the Residential School System must be must be found and brought home.
It is noteworthy that in his interview, Sinclair stated that the TRC’s six-year investigation into residential schools did not include determining whether crimes were committed in the schools. “This meant the TRC had to be careful how it stated its conclusion of ‘cultural genocide’ in the final report because it could not make a finding of criminal culpability,” he noted.
Sinclair also emphasized that since the final report of the TRC was handed over to the Trudeau Liberal government in December 2015, more victims of the Residential School System have come forward and the Trudeau government must do much more to not only acknowledge the unfolding new evidence but also to fully support the new victims coming forward as they come to terms with their trauma. “Nobody understands what they went through as well as each of them does. I always suspected there would be more truth coming out after the TRC ended … what I said at the time of the TRC final report was hard. Getting to reconciliation will be harder because we are going to discover more and more things about this history that is going to present hurdles for our growth together as a nation.”
The Canadian people consider it a matter of principle and justice that a full and thorough investigation led by Indigenous peoples be undertaken to find all of the children who went missing while in the Residential School System. There can no be justice and closure for their loved ones and communities, Indigenous peoples as a whole and the Canadian people, so long as this is not done and the Canadian state and the federal government block efforts to get to the truth. The Trudeau government must be compelled to bend to the will of the Canadian people to see that all those thousands of missing Indigenous children are brought home. Nothing less will do.
(With files from the Globe and Mail)