Recently elected Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Chief RoseAnne Archibald sees the issue of unmarked graves found at residential schools in Canada as one of her key priorities.
“It’s a long process to get to justice and reparations and recover our children,” Archibald told KTW. “It will definitely be one of the things that will be a thread through my whole leadership journey.”
Archibald spoke on Thursday, July 15, at the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre as Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc released more information about the ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey it conducted in May, uncovering signs of 200 probable burial sites on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Following the May 27 revelation, three other bands have conducted GPR surveys revealing the presence of probable unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools — 751 at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, 182 at Cranbrook’s St. Eugene’s Mission Indian Residential School and more than 160 at the Kuper Island Industrial School on Vancouver Island.
Archibald said she expects there will be more reports of probable unmarked graves, noting GPR technology is revealing “indisputable truth” that crimes have been committed — crimes that must be investigated and criminals held to account.
“When you take a body and you bury it without a grave, that’s a crime. That’s the first crime,” Archibald told KTW.
She noted there are various levels to the criminal nature.
“How did those children die? That’s the second level of the crime. Why did the church hide this? That’s another level of the crime. Why did the government not do anything? That’s another level of the crime,” she said.
During the press conference, Archibald said she is working “with urgency” on the issue of burial sites and has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for more resources and funding to help with searches.
“We are saddened by these recoveries. I know this and I have seen first-hand, speaking to people across this country, they demand action, not promises, not moments of silence,” she said.
“Our young people are expressing their rage and hurt by toppling statues and burning churches, but we must do more than tear down the symbols of destructive colonization. I ask our allies to stand shoulder to shoulder with us, to rebuild, recover, heal and move forward together.”
In the weeks following the Tk’emlups revelation. multiple churches in other provinces and parts of B.C. have been torched and statues of historical figures, including Queen Victoria in the provincial capital, have been defaced with red paint. The Tk’emlúps-owned St. Joseph’s Church was vandalized with spray paint.
Asked what the AFN can do to assist Tk’emlúps, which is moving forward with archaeological and identification work, Archibald said she is here to use the position of national chief to “amplify their voices.”
Beyond that, Archibald would need to be requested by the band to take certain steps on its behalf and she would await any word on that from Tk’emlups Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir.
When it comes finding probable graves at residential schools, Archibald said there needs to be independent investigations, noting the RCMP had a role in taking children from their families to attend the schools. She said there also needs to be international examination, noting the AFN recently passed a resolution to have the international criminal court involved in the process.
“There are a number of moving parts that we still have to figure out. An investigation must occur,” Archibald said.
She said the process needs to be community-driven, noting the AFN is looking to the federal government to provide funding investigations.
“These are conversations that I am going to be having at some point with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet,” Archibald said.