We Are All Treaty People

OTC on report Sacred Responsibility: Searching for the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials

  • Published - 26/06/2023
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  • Posted By - OTC
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The Office of the Treaty Commissioner welcomes the release of Sacred Responsibility: Searching for the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials, the interim report of the Office of the Independent Special Interlocutor on Missing Children and Unmarked Graves.

Every parent has a right to know what happened to children that were taken to residential school. Every family has a right to be united with remains of the children who were buried. This should not be taking decades. It has taken decades for survivors’ stories to be believed, despite Canada, the church, and other organizations responsible for these schools knowing the truth.

It is already long past time to truly honour the Treaty right to education. The right to have a school house on every reserve and a teacher for that school was twisted into residential schools that tried to see Indigenous culture, language, traditional knowledge, and history destroyed.

This interim report calls for the work that started with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be continued. To see all the missing children in unmarked burials returned home. The interim report also calls for Indian Residential School denialism to be considered a hate crime. It is atrocious to see articles written and posts made denying the existence of missing children, unmarked graves, and deaths of children.

The OTC stands in solidary with Special Interlocutor Kimberly Murray, who bears an immense responsibility on this journey. As she said, “upholding human rights principles does not require me to be morally indifferent to the fate of children who are victims of genocide, mass human rights violations, and injustice. Rather, I have an ethical duty to insist that there be accountability and justice for the missing children, Survivors, Indigenous families, and communities.”

“[It is] my responsibility is to speak up on behalf of those missing children in unmarked burials. I want to emphasize this point: my role is to give voice to the children. It is not to be neutral or objective – it is to be a fierce and fearless advocate to ensure that the bodies and Spirits of the missing children are treated with the care, respect, and dignity that they deserve,” Murray says in the report.

We are long past the time that all Canadians should understand the gravity and impact that willful ignorance, racism, and the colonization goals of Canada and the Crowns has on Indigenous People -- of the genocide that was being committed. But, we must get there because without this knowledge and understanding, without empathy, there can be no healing and there can be no reconciliation.

The OTC continues to offer our resources and support to the nations, communities, and survivors in their search projects to find unmarked burials and try to bring their family member home. The research by OTC cited in the interim report, a year of working to get access to documents, shows our ongoing commitment to have government, churches, and other institutions, release their records.

We echo the Special Interlocutor’s call to not be a bystander. “Each of us must stand up and speak out. We must insist that these missing children, who were abused and neglected during their lives, now be treated with the respect and human dignity they deserve.”

Read the report. Meet the real people behind this work, like the parents of Marieyvonne Alaka Ukaliannuk, who said goodbye to their four-year-old daughter expecting to see her the next summer, and only learning where her remains were 50 year later. Or the family of Charlie Hunter, who struggled for 37 years to have the remains of their 13-year-old son returned to their community of Weenusk First Nation. It took until 2011 and the support of readers of the Toronto Star to make this a reality.

We can only complete this work together. By challenging those in power to do better. By having open access to residential school records for families and communities. By asking the difficult questions like: what if this were my child? Or why would “schools” have cemeteries. By stopping violent denialism.

We need to hear these hard truths and help families and communities heal and find justice.