New Indigenous-led council to advise residential school burial searches

Searches at the burial sites for children who died at residential schools in Manitoba will have Indigenous leaders to guide them.

Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels will be co-chairing a new council with the Province of Manitoba. The council will offer advice as people search residential school burial sites.

“First and foremost, it is about searching for our missing children,” Daniels said in an interview with CTV Winnipeg. “That search must be Indigenous-led and supported by all levels of government.”

The province has previously committed $2.5 million to support identifying, investigating, and commemorating children who died at residential schools.

“The council’s role is to share information and to develop principles, best practices, and resources to support and enhance community search efforts,” the province said in an email.

Representation from Inuit, Metis, and First Nations groups will be included in the multi-organizational team.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) says more than 4,000 children are documented as having died at a residential school.

“Manitobans need to really continue to grapple with and understand what it means when children were taken and sent to school and didn’t make it home,” NCTR Academic and Research Director Brenda Gunn said. “The national center brings to the council in addition to knowledge and experience and information is also the fact that we are an organization that is also led by survivors.”

Putting survivors and families at the heart of their work is one of the council’s guiding principles—saying commemoration is essential.

The council is in its early days and will be named at a ceremony—but searches at six First Nation sites in Manitoba are already underway.

“It is just very important that we acknowledge the genocidal history; that it happened,” Daniels said. “Children were targeted. Children’s lives were lost. And that we need to remember how important it is to change the narrative in this country.”

A group of Indigenous delegates will be meeting with the Pope at Vatican City starting on Monday. This group will include Residential School Survivors and knowledge keepers.

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