AFN national chief asks UN to investigate Canada's role in residential schools

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Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald requested a full investigation by the United Nations. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald requested a full investigation by the United Nations. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald asked the United Nations on Monday to launch an investigation into Canada's possible role in violations of human rights associated with residential schools.

Archibald said she wants the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, along with other UN officials, to probe Canada's role in the residential school system in response to the reported discovery near former residential school sites of hundreds of unmarked graves believed to contain the remains of children.

"I don't call them schools anymore because no school I ever attended had children buried in unmarked graves," Archibald said.

"Canada and the other UN member states must not look away."

Archibald said she is looking for full redress, including criminal prosecutions, sanctions and other remedies.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

She made the request at the 21st Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum at the UN headquarters in New York. She also sent a written request to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

During a press conference at the assembly, Archibald pointed to the discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc., and more than 700 others near the former Marieval Residential School in Cowessess First Nation.

"Canada must not be allowed to investigate itself," Archibald said.

"Please help us ensure that something like this never happens again. Not just to us, but to anyone."

Canada wouldn't obstruct UN probe: justice minister

In the latest federal budget, Ottawa set aside $10.4 million over two years for Justice Canada to appoint a special interlocutor to work with Indigenous Peoples to protect and preserve unmarked burial sites.

Justice Minister David Lametti said the interlocutor's work wouldn't be affected by a UN investigation.

"We have never said we would ever impede that kind of request should the UN decide to do it," Lametti said.

"We will always cooperate with the United Nations."

Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Along with the UN, Archibald is pressing the International Criminal Court to launch its own investigation of Canada's residential school record for gross violations of human rights.

Archibald said any examination of Canada and residential schools needs to be impartial and independent.

She said the RCMP cannot be involved since it took Indigenous children away from their families to attend residential schools.

More than 150,000 children attended residential schools in Canada from the 1830s until the last school closed in 1997.

Archibald said intergenerational trauma from the schools still affects survivors and their descendants, many of whom don't speak their Indigenous languages fluently.

"These institutions were designed to kill the Indian in the child," she said.

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