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Friday, September 24, 2021

Recovery of children in unmarked graves at the top of First Nations election priorities

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TORONTO — The Assembly of First Nations is hoping to bring the atrocities of residential schools back into the national conversation after releasing its election priorities for the campaign.

The document, entitled “The Healing Path Forward,” outlines the five main priorities the AFN hopes the federal parties address in their own platforms:

  • truth, reconciliation and healing for First Nations and all Canadians; 
  • climate and conservation leadership with First Nations;
  • economic growth, prosperity and wealth building for First Nations;
  •  promoting peace by respecting First Nations’ jurisdiction; and,
  • rebuilding and strengthening First Nations.

“We’re asking every party to commit to them, whether they’re aligned with their platform or not,” AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald told CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday. “We want them certainly to incorporate more of these into their platform if they haven’t already done so.”

When it comes to residential schools and unmarked graves, the AFN is specifically calling for funding to communities affected by these graves, investing in strengthening and rebuilding First Nations and providing a National Indigenous healing organization.

“These are our children, these are our loved ones,” Archibald said. “When you think about First Nations issues and what’s happening in our communities, it’s our children who are affected. It’s our children living in overcrowded homes of 10 or 20 people, it’s our children who are receiving education that’s not on par with non-Indigenous children. Our children are still being taken by child welfare systems.”

While Indigenous issues and residential schools had been a hot-button issue across Canada earlier this summer, the election campaign has been fairly quiet on the topic to date.

“The fact that we just came out with our document today, will put that issue back onto people’s plates in terms of having them answer some of these questions,” Archibald said.

“It’s an ongoing issue, it’ll be at least a few years before we get through all of this ground penetrating radar to examine all of the schools across Canada. So it’s an ongoing issue and it’s going to be at the forefront and we’re going to keep talking about and making sure that all of our children are recovered.”

For a group of demonstrators outside Manitoba’s legislative building who’ve vowed to remain camped on the grounds until all the school sites have been searched, the lack of discourse has been frustrating.

“Even though there are still children being found, there’s still a lot of stories coming to light, I feel like we’re still at a stand still because there are officials who are neglecting to speak about it,” said Aaliyah Leach, a co-organizer of the group.

As part of the document, the AFN is also calling for all parties to “fully implement” the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, work in partnership with First Nations to implement Indigenous water rights, provide resources for recovery from the pandemic and return Crown lands to First Nations.

“We need to get to equality and equity and justice for our children and for our community and this election time is the time to start talking about this,” Archibald said.

It’s estimated that Crown lands, both provincial and federal, make up upwards of 89 per cent of Canada and Archibald said the request is part of a growing “land back” movement.

“It is a part of reparations,” she said. “If you think about the size of Canada, all the nations that were here prior to contact, this land was given to us by the creator we have sacred obligations to this land.”

According to CTVNews.ca’s platform tracker, the Liberals have pledged $18 billion in funding over the next five years to improve the quality of life and create new opportunities for Indigenous communities. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have promised funding for the search of unmarked graves and $1 billion in funding to support mental health and drug treatment programs.

The NDP are promising to fully fund the search of all residential schools for more unmarked graves and to fully implement the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The Green Party is pledging to implement every recommendation from Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit report, the TRC and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Bloc Quebecois is pledging to replace the Indian Act with a new set of nation-to-nation treaties.

The AFN is not supporting any party because it says work will need to be done regardless of which party forms the next government. The AFN adds that there are 50 Indigenous candidates running in this election, 28 of whom are from the NDP.

For Real Carriere, a political science professor at the University of Manitoba, the amount of Indigenous candidates in the election is crucial to keeping Indigenous issues in the campaign conversation.

“That’s very important to Indigenous people to have that representation and it’s very important for those representatives to represent Indigenous issues,” he said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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