Sacred Responsibility: Searching for the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials – Interim Report

Press Release

Opening Words

In the first year of my Mandate, I was honoured to meet with Survivors, Indigenous families, and communities across Turtle Island who are leading the Sacred work of searching for, recovering, protecting, and commemorating the missing children and unmarked burials at Indian Residential Schools and associated sites. Those leading search and recovery efforts often relive their trauma as they do this difficult and emotional work. We must honour and support their steadfast commitment to bringing respect, honour and dignity to the Spirits and bodies of the children who were never returned home.

I also recognize the courage, determination, and advocacy of Survivors who have worked tirelessly to raise Canada’s collective awareness about the atrocities perpetrated against Indigenous children, their families and communities. Canada, as a country, can no longer ignore these truths. The fact that cemeteries and unmarked burials exist on former Indian Residential Schools and associated sites across the country counters Canada’s reputation both domestically and internationally as a peaceful, just, and equitable country.

Elders and Survivors have instructed me to remember that I must be a voice for the children. Whether I am facilitating dialogue and information sharing, supporting communities by liaising with governments, churches, and other institutions, or intervening when actual or potential burial sites are threatened with destruction and desecration, my responsibility is to speak up on behalf of those missing children in unmarked burials.

I want to emphasize this point: my role is to give voice to the children. It is not to be neutral or objective – it is to be a fierce and fearless advocate to ensure that the bodies and Spirits of the missing children are treated with the care, respect, and dignity that they deserve. Some may think that giving voice to the children conflicts with my responsibility to function independently and impartially, in a non-partisan and transparent way. However, international human rights and humanitarian law are clear: upholding human rights principles does not require me to be morally indifferent to the fate of children who are victims of genocide, mass human rights violations, and injustice. Rather, I have an ethical duty to insist that there be accountability and justice for the missing children, Survivors, Indigenous families, and communities. This means Monument honouring Survivors of Indian Residential Schools in Winnipeg, near the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that sometimes I must deliver hard messages to governments, churches, and other institutions, challenging them to do better.

In the November 2022 Progress Update Report, I said that there is a need for governments, churches, and other entities to adopt an anti-colonial approach, to take responsibility for their role in creating the conditions leading to the existence of the missing children and unmarked burials, and to make reparations. They can no longer be bystanders in reconciliation. Canadians cannot take pride in a country that permits the burials of children to be violently disrespected, allows shovels to dig into the bones of ancestors, and hides from the truth. I urge all Canadians to not be bystanders. Each of us must stand up and speak out. We must insist that these missing children, who were abused and neglected during their lives, now be treated with the respect and human dignity they deserve. We need to work together as we move forward. Let us honour and support all the Survivors, Indigenous families, and communities leading this Sacred work and keep the Spirits of the children foremost in our hearts and in our minds.

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