Surveying residential school burial sites needs to be led by Indigenous govts.: Premier Cochrane

École Sir John Franklin School. (Photo by MyTrueNorthNow.com staff.)
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One MLA is calling on the GNWT to provide funding to search those locations for any unmarked burial grounds after a mass-grave underneath an old residential school site in Kamloops was discovered.

The bodies of 215 children were found buried underneath an old-residential school in Kamloops. 

And MLA for Great Slave Lake Katrina Nokleby called on the territorial government to use equipment that measures the thickness of ice roads — ground penetrating radar — to survey old residential school sites, the same process as was performed in Kamloops.

Fourteen such sites existed at some point in the Northwest Territory’s history. The last residential school closed in 1994, Akaitcho Hall in Yellowknife, which used to be where École Sir John Franklin High School now stands.

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Premier Caroline Cochrane said she wanted to take action on the issue right away.

“That was my first thing, is we need to find these children in ours,” she said.

But Cochrane said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says that local Indigenous communities are supposed to lead strategies dealing with unmarked burial grounds.

“My commitment will not be that I will take the horse and run and say this is what we shall do,” she said. “My commitment is that I shall bring it forward at our multilateral table and take the guidance of the Indigenous governments of the NWT.”

Cochrane added she would be bringing the issue forward to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, especially when it comes to funding the project.

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“The Prime Minister of Canada also has an obligation, in my opinion, because it was the Government of Canada and the Catholic churches that did this to our children, and they have an obligation, and I shall bring forward my opinion of the obligation.

On Monday, As Prime Minister, Trudeau says he is appalled by the policy that lead to what happened and he says this is not an isolated incident and we can’t hide from it.

A special debate was held in Parliament on Tuesday, where Trudeau said the federal government would support the preservation of cemeteries and unmarked burial sites, but that it should be Indigenous government’s who decide how they want to proceed.

“Today, some of the children found in Kamloops, and who have yet to be found in other places across the country, would have been grandparents or great-grandparents. They would have been elders, knowledge keepers and community leaders,” said Trudeau.

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“They are not. And that is the fault of Canada.”

Cochrane reiterated that collaborating with Indigenous governments would be key to the process.

“I’ve recognized in the year and a half that if you want to do things right with Indigenous governments, it’s not appropriate to set our timeline; it’s appropriate to work with them on their timeline,” she said.

A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support. Support services can be accessed by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866 925-4419.

Correction notice: In a previous version of this article, it read that Akaitcho Hall was open until 1996. It was open until 1994. We apologize for the error.

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