NCTR says hiring of foreign organization for unmarked graves search typical for Canada

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) continues to voice its displeasure on the federal government’s decision to hire a Netherlands-based organization to assist in the search for unmarked graves.

“All it does is make everybody feel like the government of Canada is just doing what it’s always done – not trusting, not supporting and not thinking that there’s a competency level in the Indigenous community to manage this,” Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, the chair of NCTR’s governing circle, said.

“They brought in external forces from another country that has not actually worked with our people in the past. That is probably not necessarily historically informed in the way that we would like to see them informed.”

The federal government made the decision to hire the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) without consulting NCTR or the Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves Kimberly Murray.

On Feb. 17, Crown-Indigenous relations posted a copy of the $2 million technical arrangement it has signed with the ICMP on its website.

However, Wesley-Esquimaux said this has done little to lessen NCTR’s concerns.

“They have not been able to give us a list of the communities that have actually agreed to this conversation. They haven’t shared that with us. The survivors have not been accommodated on this. Why not speak to the survivors’ circle? Who have been meeting across Canada on a variety of issues across time. There’s a lot about this that I think is missing the mark.”

According to the technical arrangement, ICMP will host a roundtable in Ottawa, an initial town hall and 35 community engagement sessions before filing its final report to the government on June 15.

But Wesley-Esquimaux said what the government should really do right now is take a step back.

“I think they should put it on pause for certain. I think they should have a session immediately with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, with the survivors’ circles and people across the country that have actually been engaged in this conversation. Some of those chiefs might be somewhat offended by the fact that they probably weren’t told either what was going on.”

In an emailed statement to APTN News, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller’s office didn’t address the concerns raised by either Murray or Wesley-Esquimaux.

“Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) are advancing work to conduct a cross-country outreach and engagement campaign with Indigenous communities that wish to explore options for the identification and repatriation of human remains from unmarked burial sites associated with former residential schools,” said the statement in part.

APTN News reached out to ICMP for comment but had not heard back by publication time.

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