Current Problems

Missing Children and Burial Information (71-76)

First Nations discuss best practices in Thunder Bay as searches of residential school sites continue

February 18, 2023

Nishnawbe Aski Nation hosting gathering of 18 communities this week

Kimberly Murray, Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools, was among the speakers at a Nishnawbe Aski Nation gathering being held in Thunder Bay this week. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: As searches for potential unmarked graves at former residential school sites in Canada continue, representatives of First Nations from across Ontario gathered in Thunder Bay this week to discuss best practices.

The Residential School Site Search Forum took place at the Best Western Plus Norwester Hotel and Conference Centre from Tuesday to Thursday. It included a number of addresses covering topics like investigation planning, workflow management, the limitations of ground-penetrating radar, and investigation jurisdiction and policing in site searches.

“This gathering … is hosted by Nishnawbe Aski Nation, and their goal was to bring together the 18 communities in Ontario that are leading the work of searching for children on the former grounds of Indian residential schools and other sites,” said Kim Murray, Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children, Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites for the federal government.  “They really want to bring communities together to share best practices from other communities that may have already started their ground penetrating radar, may have already started looking for the archival records, so that they can learn from each other, and also connect communities with experts in the different areas that are important to do these searches,” Murray said.

Potential remains have been found at former residential school sites across Canada, including more than 170 “plausible burials” at the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Kenora. Those findings were announced last month by Wauzhushk Onigum Nation.

Murray was appointed special interlocutor last summer, and said her role involves meeting with survivors, community members, and community leaders to discuss the barriers they’re facing as they conduct the searches. Murray also spoke at this week’s gathering in Thunder Bay. She said it’s important to make sure the work of searching the sites is being led by survivors.

“I think all communities are trying to ensure that that the process is survivor-led so that we are not coming in and taking over and doing things to survivors again,” Murray said. “We want to make sure that we have the proper health supports in place when they gather like they’re gathering this week in Thunder Bay, and most importantly, that we hear and we listen to their voices.”

At the end of her two-year mandate, Murray will make recommendations on the creation of “a new legal framework to help protect the burial grounds of the children,” she said.

That’s one of her goals. She also hopes to see land that was expropriated returned to First Nations; if the land is in private hands, Murray said First Nations should be compensated. Further, Murray said records “need to be given back to First Nations communities.” “We need to get them out of these archives,” she said. “It’s about land back, records back, and protection and dignity for the children.”

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.