Federal agreement with international agency a worrying misstep in the sacred work of finding our missing children
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is deeply concerned that the federal government has given the responsibility of carrying out an extremely sensitive engagement process to an international agency with no prior knowledge of the residential school system, and no prior experience working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Survivors.
Under the terms of the Technical Arrangement that was publicly released on February 17, the federal government has contracted the Netherlands-based International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) “to engage with Indigenous communities on options relating to the identification and repatriation of missing children.”
“How many times do we need to repeat nothing about us, without us?” said Eugene Arcand, member of the NCTR’s Survivor Circle. “We need a healing process, not something that further traumatizes Survivors, our families and our communities. I don’t understand why the federal government would entrust such a sensitive process to an agency that doesn’t have the necessary cultural competency.”
Rumours have circulated for weeks about the ICMP’s possible involvement in the search for residential school missing children. Although the Technical Arrangement is focused on an engagement process to inform future federal government plans, expectations have been created among some Indigenous communities that they will receive direct investigative support from the ICMP. The federal announcement has created further confusion by emphasizing the benefits to Indigenous communities rather than the fact that the Arrangement, as written, is primarily about providing advice to the federal government.
“There has been a shocking lack of transparency and clarity around Canada’s decision to hire the ICMP. This is profoundly unfair and harmful to Survivors and communities. Unfortunately, actually seeing the terms of this agreement has only raised more questions,” said NCTR Executive Director Stephanie Scott.
Under the terms of the Technical Arrangement, the ICMP is to organize an expert roundtable, two national “townhalls”, and approximately 35 regional engagement sessions before reporting its findings and recommendations to the federal government – as early as this June. Throughout this process, the ICMP is to hire Indigenous facilitators to “ensure that spiritual and ceremonial needs are met” while the ICMP will provide “expertise and educational elements on all matters related to identification, repatriation, and DNA analysis.”
Governing Circle member Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux said, “Beginning with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, there has been a clear understanding that any work related to the harms caused by the residential school system must be led by Indigenous Peoples and that Survivors must be at the heart of this work. Putting the planned engagement process in the hands of a non-Indigenous NGO is a misstep and a very worrying one at that.”
“We can all agree on the need for a coherent national response to our missing children. The NCTR is committed to working with Survivors, families, communities, partner organizations and the federal, provincial and territorial governments on this Sacred endeavor. Unfortunately, the federal government has built its engagement process on the wrong foundation. Great care must be taken going forward to protect the health and well-being of Survivors and their families and to ensure that any future strategy respects Indigenous Peoples’ laws and protocols, expertise and self-determined decision-making authority,” said Stephanie Scott.
Since receiving a copy of Canada’s agreement with the ICMP, the NCTR has raised its concerns in a meeting with Minister Marc Miller and will be following up with recommendations for measures to respect the rights and safety of affected families and communities who will be affected by this process.
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About the NCTR
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) hosted by the University of Manitoba was created to preserve the memory of Canada’s Residential School system and legacy, not just for a few years, but forever. It is the responsibility of the NCTR to steward and share the truths of Survivors’ experiences in a respectful way and to work with Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators, researchers, communities, decision-makers and the general public to support the ongoing work of truth, reconciliation and healing across Canada and beyond.