By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A new council has been formed that will work to give guidance and advice to those undertaking the grim task of searching for children who died while attending residential schools in Manitoba and may be buried in unmarked graves.
The province announced the formation of the new council on Wednesday and said it would be made up of key Indigenous governments and community organizations, as well as officials from the provincial, federal and municipal governments.
Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Alan Lagimodiere said the council has been formed because the province wants to give Indigenous community members and residential school survivors opportunities to “lead the way” when searching for missing children in unmarked graves, in a press release on Wednesday.
“Indigenous leaders, governments, organizations, communities, elders, knowledge keepers and most importantly survivors and families must lead the way as we implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and locate missing children who died attending residential schools,” Lagimodiere said.
“This work is a difficult but necessary part of the healing journey for Indigenous communities, and the council will provide crucial support and guidance to the searches for and commemorations of the children who did not return home.”
The province said the council will work to ensure that searches for missing children who attended residential schools in Manitoba are “Indigenous-led” and said that “families and survivors must be at the heart of all search efforts.”
ast May news broke that 215 unmarked graves were discovered near the site of a former residential school in B.C., and not long after that discovery, it was also announced that 751 unmarked graves were discovered near a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
Those discoveries led to a number of searches for unmarked graves taking place near former residential schools across the country, and here in Manitoba, and brought to light for many Canadians the true horrors of Canada’s residential school system.
Brenda Gunn, the academic and research director for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, said it is crucial that searches for unmarked graves be Indigenous-led.
“The residential school system was part of a larger assertion of colonial control over Indigenous peoples, based on racist and paternalistic ideas of Indigenous peoples not being capable of making their own decisions,” Gunn said. “The perspectives of Indigenous peoples have been absent from federal research on First Nations, Inuit and Metis.
“Efforts to address the harm of residential schools must promote the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and ensure that Indigenous peoples are leading processes.”
The council will be co-chaired by the province and the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) and will have representation from Indigenous leadership organizations and governments, including SCO as well as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the Manitoba Metis Federation and the Manitoba Inuit Association.
Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI government funding.