AMC calls out feds for stonewalling on residential school records

By Dave Baxter

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

With the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves near former residential schools in the last year, and the continued search for graves across the country and here in Manitoba, Indigenous leaders say the federal government needs to do more and do everything it can to help communities identify children who never returned home from residential schools.

“Last spring, when First Nations across Canada were rocked with the devastating news of unmarked graves found at former residential schools, it was every First Nation citizen’s hope that these children would be named, their lives remembered, and that they would make their way back home,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Acting Grand Chief Eric Redhead said in a recent media release.

Redhead’s comments come after a report surfaced back in March that federal officials had blocked a request for information by an Ontario-based survivor’s group that the group said would have helped them to identify four children who died at the Shingwauk and Wawanosh residential schools in Ontario back in the early 1900s.

“After having no luck in finding the names of these children elsewhere and running out of options, the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association requested assistance and information from the federal government to access the Indian Status Register for the names of two boys and two girls who died while attending the institutions,” AMC said in their release.

“They were denied access, with Canada citing privacy laws as the reasons behind the denial.”

Redhead called the blocking of the records an example of “colonial bureaucracy” that he said continues to negatively affect Indigenous Canadians, and he said he is worried that it could also negatively affect similar searches and investigations that are now taking place here in Manitoba.

On Tuesday the Cross Lake Band/Pimicikamak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba said it had started an investigation into the St.

Joseph’s Residential School, which was managed by the Roman Catholic Church from 1912 to 1969, and they said they plan to use ground-penetrating radar to search for unmarked graves in the area.

As well other searches and investigations are ongoing in Manitoba, including searches that continue at the Sagkeeng First Nation northeast of Winnipeg near the site of the former Fort Alexander Residential School.

“For decades, First Nations have been frustrated by the barriers of colonial bureaucracy when it comes to implementation of our Treaty rights in this country, and to hear that federal bureaucrats continue to act in this manner when First Nation citizens are seeking answers about little ones who never made it home is appalling,” Redhead said.

“They deserve to be brought home and their families given closure. This is one simple step on the path to healing and reconciliation, and we implore the federal government to work with survivors and all First Nation people to bring healing and closure.”

When the searches at Cross Lake were first announced, Chief David Monias asked that the federal government and that all levels of government and institutions do whatever they can to help First Nations communities conduct these types of searches and investigations.

“The Cross Lake Band/Pimicikamak Cree Nation does not wish to encounter any unnecessary obstacles, hindrance, or run-around as it conducts the investigation, particularly in the access of critical documents held by the church and government bodies, and medical summaries held by the Province of Manitoba,” Monias said in a Tuesday media release.

“The Nation calls on all levels of government, provincial and federal, to collaborate with the investigation, including the Roman Catholic Church authority in Manitoba, and the Vatican in Rome.”

In a letter that was released after the decision was made not to release records to the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and that has since been publicly shared, the federal government wrote, “The information contained within the Indian Register system is personal and, as such, is limited to disclosing solely with consent or in compliance with the Privacy Act.”

Crown-Indigenous relations didn’t respond to messages for comment.

– 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.





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