Warning: Some of the details in this story may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
The United Nations Human Rights Office is calling on Canada to launch “exhaustive investigations” and “redouble efforts” to find missing Indigenous children from residential schools, many of whom could lay in unmarked burial sites across Canada.
The recent discovery of 215 Indigenous children found on the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School has prompted Indigenous groups, and now the United Nations, to pressure the federal government to help search for all unmarked graves at residential school sites.
“The UN Human Rights Office thinks that the Canadian authorities, at all levels, should ensure prompt and exhaustive investigations as to the deaths of Indigenous children and redouble efforts to find the whereabouts of missing children, including by searching unmarked graves,” said Marta Hurtado, as spokesperson of the UN Human Rights Office, in an email to Global News.
She said the remains should be identified and forensic studies carried out to ensure proper identification.
“Without this, healing is not possible,” the statement said. “In this sense, effective remedies, including appropriate compensation, official apologies, memorials and rehabilitative services need to be considered. These are the cornerstones for reconciliation.”
The discovery adds momentum to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Hurtado says.
She added that the UN supports the proposals by the First Nations Council of Canada to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to establish a specific legal entity to protect and manage burial sites, comprised of government and Indigenous representatives.
Global News emailed Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs about the UN statement and how the federal government plans to help Indigenous communities investigate unmarked burial sites.
Global News did not hear back by the time of publication.
Yet during a media conference on Wednesday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, said the federal government will make $27 million of previously announced money available on an “urgent basis” to Indigenous communities hoping to investigate unmarked burials sites near residential schools.
“We have $27 million to begin that work and know right now it is urgent. So many communities want to begin this work … We are ready today to communicate with communities if they want to begin the work.”
She stressed that Indigenous communities want to lead themselves in this work, but need funding for experts.
The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced last week that ground-penetrating radar had located what are believed to be the unmarked graves of students at the Kamloops school.
A more complete report on the findings is expected later this month.
Trudeau said on Tuesday that it’s the “fault of Canada” that children who died during forced attendance at residential schools are not the parents, grandparents, elders and community leaders they should have become.
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419
— with files from the Canadian Press