Mediaplanet sat down with Kimberly Murray, Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools to understand the importance of Truth and Reconciliation.
What is your role as the Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools?
As Independent Special Interlocutor, my role is to:
- Engage with Survivors, First Nations, Inuit and Métis governments, Indigenous organizations, Indigenous communities and families to gather information and input about barriers and concerns relating to the identification, preservation, and protection of unmarked graves and burial sites, including the exhumation and repatriation of remains, where desired.
- Provide information and liaise with relevant governments and organizations to assist Survivors, Indigenous families and communities to address barriers and navigate federal, provincial, territorial and municipal systems to support their search and recovery of the missing children. I will also do everything in my power to assist communities to obtain and preserve relevant information and records from Canada, the provinces and territories and any other institutions, such as church entities, universities and other record holders.
- Provide recommendations for a new federal legal framework to protect and preserve unmarked burial sites and support the recovery of the missing children. An important consideration in this regard will be how and what Indigenous laws apply.
Can you tell us more about the new federal framework that is underway and its role in ensuring the respectful and culturally appropriate treatment of unmarked graves and burial sites?
The Sacred work that Survivors and Indigenous communities have been leading to recover the children who were never returned home from Indian Residential Schools has revealed an urgent need for legislative, regulatory, and policy protections of former Indian Residential School sites and other associated sites. There are likely unmarked burials located at every former Indian Residential School Site across Canada, including both the Indian Residential Schools that are covered by the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement and those that were not recognized under that agreement. In addition, there are many associated sites that need to be searched since children were often sent to other places from Indian Residential Schools, including hospitals, Indian hospitals, sanitoria, cemeteries, reformatory schools, and industrial schools.
There are significant gaps in legal protections at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels to protect the sites pending searches and investigations, and from further development. In addition, there are barriers for Survivors, Indigenous families and communities leading this work to access relevant records to locate and identify the children who are recovered. Finally, there are questions about whether law reform or other measures are needed to support death investigations and, where appropriate, criminal prosecutions. These are just some of the areas where gaps in legal protections are known to exist. As I continue to meet with Survivors, Indigenous leaders, families and communities leading this work, I may also hear about other gaps in legal protections. My final report and recommendations will be aimed at providing assistance to the federal government, and other governments, on how to ensure the protection of these sites so that the children are treated with the honour, respect and dignity that they deserve.
In terms of being able to achieve the goals of your position, are there any barriers?
There is a lot of complexity in the context of the search and recovery of the children who were never returned home from Indian Residential Schools. I do not want to talk about barriers to my work. This work is too important and my goal is to deliver on my mandate within the timeframe provided. Survivors, Indigenous families and communities have waited too long for action to be taken on this. It has already been 7 years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada delivered its final report. Calls to Action 71 to 76 provide clear direction for all levels of government to take action to support this Sacred work. In my role as Independent Special Interlocutor, my goal is to not contribute further to this delay.
Having said that, I can share some of the complexities of this work that those on the ground have been encountering that relate to the legal framework. In speaking with Survivors, Indigenous families and communities leading this work it is clear that each site being searched is unique. In some cases, the school buildings were moved multiple times within a site or to a completely different site. In some cases, there are sites with a former Indian Residential School, cemetery, Indian hospital, all on the same site that need to be searched. In many cases, there are multiple types of ownership affecting sites that need to be searched; there may be federal lands, First Nations lands, provincial lands, private lands, and/or corporate lands. In each of these types of lands, there are different laws that apply and private or corporate landowners have, in some cases, been blocking access to the sites.
How can Canadians ensure they are taking meaningful steps toward Truth and Reconciliation?
The fact that unmarked burials exist on former Indian Residential School sites across Canada changed Canada’s reputation both domestically and internationally. Every Canadian has a role in supporting this Sacred work. Just as we would not tolerate the denigration of the graves of our own family members, each of us must stand up and call for respect and dignity to be shown to the children’s bodies and spirits who are being recovered.
It’s also important to highlight the role of different governments, institutions, entities and organizations in contributing to the operation of Indian Residential Schools. People often think that the federal government and the church entities bear the sole responsibility of taking action in the context of the search for unmarked burials and the recovery of the children. Certainly, the federal government and the churches share the majority of this responsibility; there is absolutely no doubt about that. However, provinces, territorial governments and municipalities and other entities, such as universities, also hold records and they need to find and share these with those leading these searches. In addition, in some cases, provinces, territorial governments and some universities actively participated in the administration and inspection of Indian Residential Schools. As such, each of these governments, entities, institutions and organizations need to participate in supporting this Sacred work.