Canada’s non-Indigenous led unmarked graves contract has some ‘deeply concerned’

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says there are many issues with a contract Ottawa recently signed with an international group to get advice on investigating unmarked graves.

The centre says it’s deeply concerned with the decision by the government to hire a Netherlands-based organization to launch a quote “extremely sensitive engagement process” on issues surrounding gravesites near former residential schools.

According to a representative for the centre, one of the most notable problems with this plan is that the group isn’t Indigenous led.

Raymond Frogner is the head of archives at the centre and says he’s worried about the timeline of the investigation, which is supposed to take place over the course of less than six months.

“In that kind of condensing of the process, I do fear that there’s going to be some, you know, local indigenous protocols, advice of advisors and elders from the communities that will be lost and there will be a trauma resulting,” he explained.

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Frogner says while the Netherlands based organization – called the International Commission on Missing Persons does have experience examining areas where there have been questions of mass grave sites – it’s an investigation that should be Indigenous led.

“These are indigenous communities that have always been on the sort of tail end of these kinds of initiatives they’ve not been consulted. So there’s a lot of questions that needed to be asked before something as significant as investigations into my gravesites of family members begins with an entity that comes from the Netherlands is the headquarters,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government says it hired the International Commission on Missing Persons to provide it with advice after it conducted an outreach campaign with communities that signaled an interest in hearing about options around DNA analysis and other forensic techniques.

Frogner adds he believes the investigation needs to be driven by residential school survivors, adding the use of trauma informed and culturally safe procedures will be crucial to how its perceived.

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