‘Some kind of accountability’: Indigenous activist wants Canada to stand trial for residential schools

“If they had Nuremberg trials, why can’t they have something like that for Indigenous people?” says Nakuset of the Native Women’s Shelter, on wanting Canada to be held accountable on residential schools. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

MONTREAL (CityNews) — A prominent Indigenous activist wants Canada to be tried at the international level for its historical treatment of the country’s Indigenous population.

Nakuset, the director of Montreal’s Native Women’s Shelter, is calling for accountability and justice following the discovery of an unmarked burial site believed to contain the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

“If they had Nuremberg trials, why don’t they have something like that for Indigenous people?” asked Nakuset. “Why can’t people be named and go to court, and be recognized for being part of this?”

Nuremberg was the site of the high-profile trials of top Nazi leaders after World War II. The proceedings broke new ground in holding government leaders individually responsible for their actions.

“It’s just incredibly painful and hurtful and all of this. We really need some kind of accountability,” said Nakuset.
“There should be some kind of trial and it should be on the record. Added to the TRCs (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), added to the history books.”

WATCH: Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors want action after mass child grave found (May 29, 2021)

Government-sponsored, church-run residential schools operated in Canada for more than 120 years.

The 2019 National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls found that Canada committed genocide against Indigenous people.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted the inquiry’s findings. “What happened amounts to genocide,” he said.

That could have tremendous legal impact if a court ever weighs Ottawa’s responsibility for crimes against humanity, experts say.


“The national inquiry acknowledge they are not a judicial body, and the formal recognition or determination of genocide would have to be made by a judicial body,” said Bruno Gelinas-Faucher, a University of Montreal law professor. “They nevertheless come to the conclusion: all the violations have been documented by the national inquiry amounted to genocide.

“If the state is recognized as being responsible for a violation such as genocide, there’s obligation for reparation. And that’s a legal obligation. In this case, the reparation takes the form of fully implementing all the calls to justice that have been laid out by the national inquiry.”

WATCH: Residential school survivors recall traumatic past in the system (June 8, 2021)

Nakuset wants Canada to order a full investigation of the sites of former residential schools.

“That needs to be looked into and the total number of children,” she said. “Ideally the 215 that we know of should be named. There should be a plaque.”

Quebec’s Indigenous affairs minister, Ian Lafreniere, named a facilitator who will stay in contact with Indigenous elders as the provincial and federal governments determine what comes next in the search for remains of residential school victims.

“It is history in the making,” said Nakuset. “What they tried to do was to do it in secret. No one was going to ever know about it. No one would if they hadn’t done that scan. So it’s multi level in checking all the other residential schools, getting those numbers, finding out who’s accountable.”

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