Discussion paper looks at the legal and human rights framework for mass graves

The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) at UBC has released a new discussion paper exploring considerations for addressing missing children, unmarked burials and mass graves at residential schools. 

The paper, Considering the legal and human rights framework for addressing mass graves connected to Indian Residential Schools, takes a critical look at Canadian law as there is not an established practice or understanding of how to approach mass graves. There are crucial questions that need to be answered, including: Who should make decisions about the site and the remains? How should these decisions be made? What is the role of the families? What is the role of the Indigenous Peoples on whose territory the graves are found? How will justice be advanced through the next stages of addressing this matter that has been ignored for generations? 

With these questions in mind, the discussion paper presents considerations for the development of a legal and human rights framework for uncovering and assessing mass graves that is informed by principles applied internationally. The framework proposes key elements and foundations that are needed to advance a framework in Canada. 

“It is imperative that governments, working in co-operation with First Nations governments, Survivors, families, as well as experts, start immediately putting the pieces of a domestic framework in place. This work cannot wait and has progressed far too slowly over the years,” says Centre Academic Director Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Aki-Kwe. 

Indigenous communities are caretakers and advocates for some of the former sites of residential schools, leading the effort to research and commemorate the sites. Of the more than 150 schools that were open in Canada, fewer than 20 have school buildings that are still standing or partially standing. Many former sites have few buildings or structures on them and some have been repurposed or sold. As search efforts at these sites continue, it is inevitable that more unmarked burials and mass graves will be discovered. 

The government must develop measures to investigate and protect these sites, in consultation with the impacted communities, in a manner consistent with the rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Declaration, and international law. 

View the paper

Title page that reads: Considering the Legal and Human Rights Framework for Addressing Mass Graves Connected to Indian Residential Schools