WINNIPEG — Manitoba First Nation leaders are calling on the federal government to search the sites of all former residential school sites in Canada after the remains of 215 children were found at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.
Leaders of Pimicikamak Cree Nation, Norway House Cree Nation and Opaskwayak Cree Nation, all of which had residential schools in their communities, want Ottawa to provide assistance in conducting forensic searches to find lost children.
“Somebody is accountable for all of this and, as a mother, a grandmother, I want justice,” said Shirley Robins, Pimicikamak Cree Nation Councillor, at a news conference on Friday.
Pimicikamak Cree Nation wants Ottawa to bring in the International Commission on Missing Persons, an intergovernmental organization, to help in the search.
Ottawa has already said it will provide $27 million to help First Nation communities locate those lost.
But Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias says those funds, when distributed, don’t amount to much.
Monias says he, and other leaders, are prepared to take action together if the federal government won’t help.
“If the government won’t step up then we have to do something together to try and put our resources together to help each other out,” said Monias, “If it has to be that way then that’s what we’ll do.”
Monias said, if the remains of non-indigenous children were found at a former residential school, the response would be different.
“You would investigate and they would hold somebody accountable,” said Monias.
“You would have all those answers. For us, that doesn’t exist,” he said.
Federal NDP MP Niki Ashton, who participated in the press conference with Pimicikamak Cree Nation, says it is the federal government’s duty to respond to request for aid.
“The government of Canada is responsible for these crimes,” said Ashton. “They were state-sanctioned schools, run by churches, but state sanctioned.”
Susan Necan, a residential school survivor, also agrees the federal government needs to step and says all former residential school sites need to be searched.
Necan was forced to attend a residential school in northwestern Ontario for three years, from 1986 to 1989, an experience she still lives with.
“People say you can forgive but you can’t forget,” said Necan, who said she relives the trauma she went through at the residential school.
“I believe every residential school should be searched,” said Necan, “And I do believe there probably are more bodies out there.”
Necan says that, thanks to the support of family, she did not turn to alcohol or substances to cope with her trauma. She says many others weren’t so lucky and she wants to see the federal government provide more support for residential school survivors.
“The experience that I received, it shouldn’t have happened,” said Necan.
“The government, they need to acknowledge we’re still suffering. I’m still suffering.”
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