Secretariat to be created to oversee search for graves at former Mohawk Institute Residential School

By Lynda Powless

Editor

SIX NATIONS OF THE GRAND-A Kahnesatake woman has been hired to over see the establishment of a  “Survivors’ Secretariat that will launch a “death/criminal investigation” into potential unmarked graves at the former Mohawk Institute Residential School, Six Nations Elected Council announced in a statement Thursday, August 12, 2021

Kimberly R. Murray  has been hired as the Executive Oversight Lead to help in the creation of a “Survivors’ Secretariat” that will launch the investigation.

Mohawk Institute survivor Roberta Hill  said  it will be an “enormous” workload. “It’s really hard to find the right words to describe our feelings about this enormous work ahead because there are so many emotions we still have – so many unthinkable things happened at that place [Mush Hole]. I think relief and hope are a couple that I would share. It’s finally time for us to recover all the children that died and were left to remain unknown – it’s time for justice and accountability. We are getting older and many are dying, so we are relieved that the police services, Coroner and Forensic Officers are working together in the death and criminal investigation,  and that we have Kimberley here to oversee this work,” she said in the statement.

Murray is a former Executive Director to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and was the first Assistant Deputy Attorney General of the Indigenous Justice Division at the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. The statement said “her experience and knowledge of the Indian Residential School system, the historical records, and the legal landscape is a tremendous asset to the Survivors.”

Murray said the work is a continuation of what the TRC undertook.

“I come to this new role with humility and enormous respect for the Survivors and the Sacred work ahead.  The work of the TRC in relation to the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials was only a beginning. My commitment to the Survivors and their families is that we will not stop until we find the truth about where the children are,” she said.

The Survivors’ Secretariat has a wide mandate that includes coordinating death investigation processes and protocols, conducting Statement Gathering, document collection and historical research, supporting commemoration initiatives, and liaising with First Nations, provincial, and federal governments.

The Survivors’ Secretariat will also be bringing in an Indigenous Human Rights Monitor and a Cultural Monitor who will be tasked with overseeing the work of the Joint Police Task Force.  “Survivors and community members have been clear, the Joint Police Task Force must be Survivor-led.  These two monitoring roles, once in place, are essential to ensuring that Indigenous legal principles, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and cultural protocols are respected,” the statement said.

Six Nations Elected Chief Mark Hill said the secretariat needed to be apolitical and not under the Six Nations Elected Council.

The secretariat will also communicate with both intergenerational survivors and the community .

“From the very start it was recognized that the Secretariat needed to be apolitical and not under the Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council. Communication with intergenerational Survivors and community is a critical component of this work and it’s important that politics not hinder the engagement that needs to take place,” he said in the statement.

Six Nations Elected Council has provided $1 million in funding to get the secretariat off the ground and applied to the federal government for $10 million to undertake a search of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School grounds for possible remains of children. Ottawa has set aside $27.1 million for communities to identify burial sites.  SNEC did not comment on why a local lawyer was not hired for the position.

 

 

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