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After remains of Indigenous children found buried, Canada must commit to justice.
The remains of 215 Indigenous children were found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia on May 27, 2021. Since then, thousands of unmarked graves have been located on the grounds of other former residential and industrial schools. The number is expected to rise as searches progress at the sites of former residential schools across Canada.
These children should never have been taken from their families.
Residential schools were part of a colonial policy enshrined in Canadian law to eradicate Indigenous cultures, languages, and communities and break children's connections to their Indigenous identities. Parents who tried to prevent government agents from taking their children away to these schools were threatened with arrest. While the last school closed in 1996, intergenerational trauma, ongoing harms and discriminatory practices against Indigenous Peoples continue.
Because of discriminatory colonial policies, Métis, Inuit, and First Nations children continue to be disproportionately represented in the child welfare system. First Nations children living on reserve receive less money for healthcare and education than other children in Canada. Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people experience staggeringly high rates of violence. Inuit, Métis, and First Nations people too often experience racism when accessing or interacting with public services like policing and healthcare. And governments frequently approve industrial projects on Indigenous territories without free, prior, and informed consent or recognition of Indigenous laws and scientific knowledge.
The reports of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2019, plus numerous reviews by the UN and other international human rights bodies, have documented the extent of the harms against Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and made thousands of recommendations to Canada to ensure justice and accountability for Indigenous Peoples.
But despite the harms being well known, and recommendations for change clearly laying out the path forward, Canada continues to resist real justice and accountability. It has failed to implement the 6 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding Missing Children and Unmarked Burials. It continues to litigate against First Nations children living on federally-controlled reserves, denying them the same levels of funding for basic services as other children in Canada. Canada is still fighting residential school and day school survivors in court. And it continues to resist calls from Indigenous Peoples to respect their right to self-determination and apply the principle of free, prior, and informed consent regarding industrial development on their territories.
To ensure justice and accountability—not only for the children who died at residential schools—but for all First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples, Canada must take concrete action without delay.
Act now and call on Canada to ensure justice and accountability for Indigenous Peoples.