Hill Times July 26, 2021
What does accountability look like in the face of mass graves of Indigenous children?
A mass grave was just found in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of more than 500 mass graves from the war in 1992-1995. The largest mass grave had 629 Bosnian victims. Serb President Radovan Karadzic was found guilty of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The country continues to struggle to find a way forward and how to tell the truth.
Mass graves have been found in Spain from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s but previous governments didn’t want anyone to uncover the truth. So much so that a law was passed to pardon “political crimes” committed during the conflict, called the “Pact of Forgetting,” except some didn’t forget. A recent change of government resulted in new funds for investigations, according a Reuters report in 2018, “Remains of Spanish dictatorship’s victims handed to families 80 years on.”
These abominations of unmarked and hidden mass graves are almost always related to war and conflict. While rare, children sometimes are targeted along with adults. The Nazis participated in this atrocity, and remains of children have been found with adults. Significant work has been done to find the victims of the Nazi regime, with an estimated 1,500 mass graves in several countries, according to the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education Remembrance and Research’s report, Mass Graves and Killing Sites in the Eastern Part of Europe. Prosecutions have resulted in charges and perpetrators are still hunted down.
But what about mass graves of just children? This particular abomination seems within the realm of churches funded by states.
The government and the Catholic Church ran homes for unmarried women in Ireland, and research has found that 9,000 children died at these homes—one home secretly buried 796 babies and children. Churches somehow also lost hundreds of children in Scottish orphanages. Churches in Australia and the U.S. also somehow buried in secret babies and children as part of the residential school policies against Indigenous peoples.
The Government of Canada funded the churches to run residential schools, but that same federal government refused to fund the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the evidence of mass graves. So, is this perhaps a conflict of interest? When the state is unwilling to prosecute, this is when the International Criminal Court steps in.
A whole line of political and civil service leaders through history didn’t want you to know the truth—truly a Canadian pact of forgetting. Those who continue to spew some propaganda to uphold “the good intent” of residential schools need to be held accountable.
All levels of government and universities need to step up and support First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities and families to find their lost children. Canadians need to show up and stand with Indigenous peoples looking for their lost kids. Go to the mass grave, stand with Indigenous families.
Workers at some of the residential schools are still alive and walking amongst us and they must be prosecuted. Church leaders need to be prosecuted. The Catholic Church needs to pay its reparations. The federal government needs to dismantle the Department of Indigenous Affairs, and forthwith be banned from Indigenous education and child welfare. Take the money saved times four and give it to provinces and territories to support the well-being of Indigenous children in partnership with communities. Federal departments continuing their frivolous fighting in courts against Indigenous rights should result in immediate terminations of ministers and deputy ministers. Accountability means consequences.
And we need to learn how to grieve our losses in our own ways and together, and we need to commit to work together for all our children. Never again, right?
Otherwise, how can we actually look ourselves in the mirror and say we’ve changed? That we will hold ourselves to account? If we refuse to do just that, international pressure will do it for us.