CALGARY (660 NEWS) — The ongoing discovery of unmarked graves near residential schools has sparked a reckoning for Canada, but Indigenous leaders say this knowledge is not new.
Niigan Sinclair is an Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba, and he says the federal government was invited to investigate residential schools in the past and they refused to do so at the time.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was denied $1.5m in federal funding back in 2009 to research evidence of unmarked graves. But Indigenous communities didn’t let that setback dictate their story.
“Many Indigenous peoples began to take action starting around that time (2009),” Sinclair said.
“They were inviting universities, archaelogical departments, and so on, to do investigations on residential school sites, and this is the culmination of that six years later.”
Advocates say when it comes to a host of Indigenous concerns, governments washing their hands of responsibility is nothing new.
Pam Palmater is an Indigenous lawyer and activist, and she says the government has known about the need for this investigation for generations.
“Their response is always ‘well it took 500 years to get to this place, it’s going to take 500 more to fix it,'” Palmater said.
“That’s a policy choice.”
Many of these grave sites have been uncovered with evolving ground radar technology–which was used in Kamloops and Cowessess.
But the calls for systemic change have been mounting in number and intensity since the death of George Floyd in 2020–including demands for action against Islamaphobia following a deadly attack against a London, Ontario family.
Dr. Crystal Fraser is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.
“If a group of elders in the community say, ‘Yes, there are 50 people buried over there’, for me that’s all I need,” Fraser said.
“But for Canadian’s there needs to be tangible evidence.”
Fraser also cites both the improved technological tools and the ongoing racial discourse as reasons for why this is happening now.
“With the murder of George Floyd and others, we’ve seen Black Lives Matter. We’ve seen questions about race relations thrust into national and international media,” Fraser said.
But she still remaind skeptical that this is a true point of reckoning.
“We are doing these things on our own–with or without the governemnt, with or without the churches,” she said.
“We’re really taking control of our own narrative.”