Interlocutor on unmarked graves ‘very concerned’ about FBI’s $2 million deal with international organization
The special interlocutor on missing children and unmarked boarding school burials is calling on the federal government to reach a settlement with an international group tasked with searching for missing persons lost to armed conflict, human rights abuses and other causes.
Kimberly Murray says she is “very concerned” that Canada’s $2 million technical deal with the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) is not transparent and the commission falls under the influence of bureaucrats from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) provides.
She is urging Minister Marc Miller to make the agreement public so communities can see the details for themselves.
“It should be made public,” Murray said.
“Canada and the ICMP entered into the agreement without notifying anyone that they would enter into an agreement. They haven’t really consulted with any of the national indigenous organizations. They had no influence on the contract.
“There was no transparency.”
The commission, based in The Hague, Netherlands, will make nationwide outreach, offer expert information on DNA analysis and other forensic approaches, and then submit a final report to the Canadian government, Miller said in a statement Tuesday to the Canadian press.
Miller said the group’s work will be independent and guided by local Indigenous facilitators, but Murray said the agreement needs to be made public so communities can validate it.
Miller’s office refused to provide a copy of the deal when asked.
“Agreements and documents will be exchanged, as appropriate, with input from all parties,” his office said in a statement on Thursday.
CBC News awaits a response from ICMP.
Concerned that the Fed wants a ‘shadow report’
Murray pointed to the lack of transparency in a written submission last week to the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, who is due to visit Canada in March.
The Jan. 30 filing said Murray had questions about the ICMP’s experience and expertise related to constitutionally protected indigenous rights, sovereignty, self-determination, laws and protocols.
She said Wednesday she wonders if Ottawa officials and politicians want a “shadow report” in their “back pocket” if they don’t like the results Indigenous-run bureaus like hers are making.
“The commission is developing a report that will be served on Canada, not on the community, but on Canada,” she said.
“It’s not remote. It’s very heavily controlled by CIRNAC.”
Despite these concerns, Murray said the group is doing a good job, adding that communities should be able to consult the commission if they find it helpful – “without Canada checking them”.
The statement from Miller’s office said that commitment and collaboration between the interlocutor, the Commission, the National Advisory Committee on Unmarked Graves and the Winnipeg-based National Center for Truth and Reconciliation “are essential to bring this work to completion.” .
“These conversations will be valuable in assisting communities facing very difficult decisions regarding options for testing — if they so choose — and in providing recommendations to the federal government on tools and supports needed.”
Questions about handling data
Leah Redcrow, executive director of the Acimowin Opaspiw Society, is overseeing an ongoing investigation into unmarked burials at the Blue Quills residential school in Alberta.
The Saddle Lake Cree Nation found what they believe to be an undocumented mass grave at this site in 2004.
Redcrow said it is imperative that Indigenous communities know how the international commission will handle DNA, records and other important, sensitive data.
“Information and data sovereignty is a very important issue in these investigations,” she said.
“Where will the information go and what is its destination? Just to get another report? That helps the government. That doesn’t help us. We must try to bring the remains back here.”
Redcrow said her group was not consulted on the agreement and agrees it should be public.
Both the First Nations Assembly and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami remained silent.
Cassidy Caron, President of the National Council of Métis, said in a statement: “We have not been consulted about the work that will take place with the ICMP,” but she hopes the process will help communities.
“Ultimately, we support all processes that assist our communities in uncovering unmarked graves and the work that must continue as we heal from the traumas of genocide and colonization,” Caron said.
Métis children often attended the same boarding schools as First Nations children, although the exact number of Métis students is difficult to estimate, the TRC said in its 2015 report, which described the system as a core element of Canada’s cultural genocide policy.
An estimated 150,000 indigenous children have passed through the system in more than 150 years.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experiences at boarding schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been established to support former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counseling and crisis support are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or online at www.hopeforwellness.ca.