Ottawa pauses 'unmarked graves' contract over lack of Indigenous heritage

Ottawa has paused its $2 million contract on locating alleged 'unmarked graves,' owing to push back from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. They voiced concerns about the Dutch-based Commission's lack of Indigenous heritage.

Ottawa pauses 'unmarked graves' contract over lack of Indigenous heritage
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Ottawa has paused its $2 million contract on locating alleged 'unmarked graves,' owing to push back from Indigenous Canadians.

A spokesperson for Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree confirmed that "concerns" had been relayed about their contract with the International Commission on Missing Persons. "We are working to determine a path forward," said Matthieu Perrotin in a statement to the Canadian Press.

In February, Ottawa reached an agreement with the Dutch-based commission on behalf of First Nations across Western Canada and parts of Ontario to use ground-penetrating radar to locate possible graves at former residential schools. The commission specializes in finding people who have disappeared, reported the publication.

Initially, it planned an outreach campaign on its DNA analysis and other forensic techniques that could expedite efforts, however that came to a screeching halt after the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation voiced concerns about its lack of Indigenous heritage.

The centre and government-appointed interlocutor Kimberly Murray, a former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, concurred that such work must be Indigenous-led to account for communal sensitives on the matter.

Indigenous Relations then paused work to consider amending the contract and "ensure that the most appropriate path forward is being taken."

While they did not detail the changes they would make to the contract, the international group intends to sign an amended deal with work expected for next year.

In May 2021, Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., reported the discovery of alleged remains belonging to 215 children at a former residential school.

Nationwide outrage ensued, and the alleged graves catalyzed Truth and Reconciliation while propelling vandalism and the burning of over 60 churches across the country in the summer of 2021.

As of writing, no remains have been unearthed at the Kamloops site, with investigations to take upwards of two decades to complete.

In fact, an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools in Canada, but no bodies have been unearthed at suspected 'unmarked graves' across the country.

Commission spokesperson Curtis Mallet clarified they have engaged with First Nations, Métis and Inuit residential school survivors across Canada to build trust.

"We have done this by replacing the intended individual community engagement sessions with larger presentations and participation at regional and national gatherings and assemblies," he said.

Mallet added that Canada must answer for its human-rights record and the legacy of residential schools, reported the Canadian Press.

Ottawa noted they will still provide support for communities that engage with the commission for its technical expertise, as it remains the sole entity that finds missing persons independent of government.

According to Blacklock's Reporter, the federal government provided $7.9 million to search the Kamloops site and $3.1 million for a national Residential Schools Student Death Register.

In October 2021, excavation crews unearthed only debris at Edmonton's Camsell Hospital after ground-penetrating radar detected 34 anomalies in the facility's surrounding area, reported the CBC.

The hospital formerly treated Indigenous people with tuberculosis for decades — and abuse and forced sterilization — which led some to believe former patients may have been buried on the grounds. However, the absence of human remains concluded the need for further searches of the site.

Manitoba's Pine Creek First Nation failed to unearth remains last week after researchers detected 57 anomalies under Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church.

The Pine Creek residential school, operated by the Roman Catholic Church, remained open from 1890 to 1969 in different buildings on the land, including the church. Centre records indicated that 21 students allegedly died from abuse at the Pine Creek school.

In August, English River First Nation claimed that 93 'unmarked graves' exist on the site of Beauval Indian Residential School. The Roman Catholic Church opened St. Bruno's boarding school at Ile-a-la-Crosse in 1860 and officially closed in 1995.

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