Should Police Investigate Residential School Cases in Canada?

SIX NATIONS OF THE GRAND RIVER, Ontario – Police officers and members of the Mohawk community worked together – pushing two ground-penetrating radars resembling electric lawn mowers as they searched for human remains at the site of ‘a former native residential school.

Roland Martin, 84 – who had been forced to attend school, the Mohawk Institute, in 1947 – watched and remembered. He recalled that food was so scarce that he and his classmates collected leftovers from a nearby landfill. “Sometimes you have to wonder how we got out of this,” he said. “How many people have actually died here? “

Searches for the remains of Indigenous children who died in famous Canadian residential schools have been taking place across the country since May. It was then that radar scans of the grounds of Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia found evidence of 215 human remains buried in unmarked graves, many of them children.

But this research was different.

While most Indigenous communities have been reluctant to work with the police because of deep mistrust of law enforcement, the Mohawks have entered into a delicate collaboration with two police forces. Their hope is that by involving law enforcement, they can retain the possibility of a formal criminal investigation of any unmarked burial site – and to obtain justice, as well as uncover the truth about what is happening. happened.

Joint work could become a model for police involvement in future searches

“We recognized that we had to be very careful because of these trust issues with the police,” said Chief Mark B. Hill of the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, part of which contains the lands of the school. “The survivors are very nervous about everything, aren’t they? “

From the 1880s to the 1990s, the Canadian government forcibly removed at least 150,000 Aboriginal children from their homes and sent them to residential schools to assimilate them into Western ways. Their languages, their religious and cultural practices have been banned. In 2015, aNational Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the system “cultural genocide”.

In schools, which were mostly run for government by Christian churches, sexual, physical and emotional abuse and violence were rife. Thousands of children have disappeared.

Many Indigenous leaders say the remains unearthed across Canada are manifestations of criminal activity in schools, ranging from improper burial to neglect and murder.

The National Commission found documents indicating that at least 54 students died at the Mohawk Institute, which was one of the oldest and oldest schools in the system when it finally closed in 1970.

Yet they were reluctant to allow the police to investigate the deaths because, as RoseAnne Archibald, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and other leaders say, they were an integral part of the system. The officers uprooted the indigenous children from their homes and handed them over to schools. They also tracked the runaways from the schools and brought them back.

“There must be a review to determine whether any of our children were murdered,” Chief Archibald said last month in Kamloops when she asked the United Nations to appoint an independent investigator. “Canada must be held accountable for its genocidal laws and policies. Canada should not be allowed to investigate on its own.

To this feeling of mistrust is added a documented history of racist abuse against Indigenous peoples by police officers, especially the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as well as a tendency among police officers to overlook or downplay crimes committed against them.

The decision to involve law enforcement in the search for remains at the Mohawk Institute was therefore not an easy one for the Mohawk community.

Like many reserves in Ontario and Quebec, the Six Nations have their own police force. While this force is one of the few composed entirely of Indigenous officers – most of whom have parents who attended school – it lacks the staff, forensic skills, budgets, and other resources to conduct to search and any criminal investigation. .

“We need help,” Chief Hill said. “We are already under capacity, underfunded the Six Nations police. “

Chief Hill said after the findings at the Kamloops school he met with former students of the institute, or survivors as they prefer to be known, to find out if their community should involve the OPP. ‘Ontario and, if applicable, how.

This force had recently been locked in an at times tense standoff with several Six Nations Mohawks trying to halt a construction project on land ceded to them by Britain in 1784.

And in 2007, an investigation criticized the provincial police for killing Dudley George, a 38-year-old Ojibwa, during a protest against the ownership of land that had been confiscated from his community and ultimately turned into a park.

But many survivors said it was important to determine how the students died and who was responsible, if so, even though it is likely that perpetrators have died or are no longer mentally fit to stand trial under of Canadian law.

“They said, ‘If they were white children, there would immediately be police officers on the ground,'” Kimberly R. Murray, a lawyer and former executive director of the National Commission, recalled of her first conversations with the survivors of the institute.

Survivors also said the deceased students at least deserved the dignity of having their graves located.

So the Mohawks decided to seek help from the Provincial Police, as well as the Police Department in Brantford, Ontario, the town that surrounds the old school and borders most of Six Nations territory.

But in response to the community’s mistrust of the Provincial Police and other government agencies, the Six Nations Band Council established a “survivors’ secretariat»Led by Mrs. Murray, member of the Mohawk Nation of Kanesatake near Montreal. This group has the final say on all matters relating to the search.

Provincial police called the collaboration a “community-based burial-site search” in a statement to the New York Times and said they would offer their support by “establishing a grid for the area and taking aerial photographs” and attributing a managerial case to help.

The two systems “work together: traditional knowledge and colonial tools,” Murray said the morning the research began. “Community-based research teams have the knowledge, they have the skills. The police just need to know how to work with them.

One of Ms Murray’s first actions was to appoint Beverly Jacobs, Mohawk and professor of law, to oversee the work of the police from a human rights perspective, and other monitors to ensure that research and survey are in accordance with cultural practices.

Ms Murray said any criminal prosecution following the search would likely take years to come. The research itself could take years, as the institute also operated a 500-acre farm, and full school records were difficult to come by.

Another question is whether the Six Nations will decide to exhume the remains to identify them through DNA testing and determine the cause of death – a prelude to prosecuting anyone in court. The question of whether to exhume the remains has been a source of division in many indigenous communities.

The only other Indigenous community where police are known to investigate missing residential school children is in Manitoba, where an RCMP investigation that began in 2010 has yet to produce charges.

The day Mr Martin watched police search the grounds, Geronimo Henry, another survivor, scoured the property and found the spot where he had carved his nickname, Fish, in one of his red bricks. Mr. Henry spent 11 years at the school after arriving at the age of 6 in 1942.

“With the radar, the search for anonymous graves, that is part of the truth and part of the reconciliation,” he said. “The natives are telling the truth. Now it is up to the government to try to come to terms with all the wrongs.

Comments are closed.