Keep going, urges AFN chief, as Ottawa outlines new funding to reckon with residential school legacies

By Palak Mangat August 11, 2021

Newly announced funding and steps to help Indigenous communities “heal” from the impacts of residential schools should be “just the beginning” says Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald, who urged governments to redouble their efforts and match the funds “invested in the destruction of First Nation people” decades ago.

At a presser yesterday, four cabinet ministers joined forces with representatives from the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Manitoba Métis Federation, along with Archibald, to detail a suite of measures that comes on the heels of grim findings of remains of children who attended residential and day schools.

Speaking to reporters, Archibald, who was elected to the top post last month, said $100 million set aside by Ottawa to support communities considering demolishing, rehabilitating or constructing new facilities in the buildings’ place was a start to help the country come to terms with “symbols of colonialism, assimilation, and genocide.”

“We have to do more than just tear them down,” she said, referencing that some 139 schools across the country have been identified as federally supported sites (not including those operated by religious institutions or provinces). “What will you build in its place that will help the healing of that community?”

Archibald estimated the equivalent of nearly $2 billion by today’s standards was spent to build Canada’s network of former residential schools.

Cash will be doled out over two years, and is part of the feds’ efforts to help communities reckon with the legacy of former schools, which operated as far back as the 1800s and into the 1990s.

What’s needed, said Archibald, is for office holders to commit to spending the same amount to “rebuild these communities” so they can “have an ownership on their healing journey.”

The feds shared Tuesday $20 million will be dedicated to build a national monument in the nation’s capital to honour survivors and children who were sent to the institutions. Yesterday’s briefing showed the government is also beefing up the number of people appointed to help it manage the file.

Justice Minister David Lametti, who was among those on hand for the unveiling, clarified an independent official tasked with helping identify unmarked and undocumented graves and burial sites at the locations cannot conduct investigations or decide whether to pursue cases in court.

The yet-to-be-named special interlocutor “will facilitate dialogue” between different levels of government, churches and Indigenous communities as work begins, he said, adding the position’s creation was inspired by advocates like Archibald telling him that “there wasn’t trust in the system.”

This position also varies from the deputy attorney general of Canada, whose consent is needed to prompt proceedings for offences under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, he noted.