CALGARY — Hundreds of Canadians marched on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and across the country Saturday in an effort to put pressure on the federal government to investigate abuse against Indigenous peoples at residential schools.
The march for ‘truth and justice’ was organized by a pair of NDP MPs – Mumilaaq Qaqaaw, who represents the riding of Nunavut and Charlie Angus, who represents Timmins-James Bay.
A rally at Calgary’s city hall saw a small group of people turn out to show their support and solidarity, including Indigenous advocate Nicole Johnston from the Piikani Nation.
“We cannot trust the federal government, because of the evidence that they are sitting on and hiding behind, most notably the policy of the genocide against Indigenous people,” Johnston said.
“I’m done hearing apologies. I want action and I want justice.”
Other supporters like Melanie Fiddler from the Cote First Nation also stood up for change at the Calgary rally.
Fiddler told CTV News the story of her great-grandmother, who went to jail because she didn’t want to send her children to a residential school. She says for decades, her family has lived on the foundation where Indigenous people suffer immense intergenerational trauma.
“They weren’t allowed to comfort each other, or support each other, they were totally divided, so they were complete strangers and so for our generation, it was the same way,” Fiddler said.
“There’s always been a government policy to kill off the Indian in this country. We’re human, we want our dignity back, we want our self respect back, we want justice and we deserve it and if people don’t start listening to us, we’re on the brink of not having a planet or a world anymore for your children or our children.”
The frustration and deep sadness from the Indigenous community extends across Canada as thousands share their tragic stories, but the Liberal government insists it doesn’t have the power to initiate a criminal investigation into residential schools.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RESPONDS
In a statement to CTV News, Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti said he has held frank and productive discussions with Indigenous leaders about the next steps the government has to take to provide support.
He most notably said survivors of the residential school system and their families must be included in the conversation following the discovery of graves in Kamloops and Marieval.
“Our government is committed to working with affected Indigenous communities across Canada to protect graves and burial sites using all available measures, including the criminal law,” the statement read.
“We are listening and will ensure that all responsive measures are Indigenous-led, survivor-centric and culturally sensitive. While I do not have the authority to initiate criminal investigations, as this is an exclusive power of the police, we will consider all options that will allow the survivors, their communities and the country to move forward on the path to healing and reconciliation.”
A ‘SLAP IN THE FACE’
The above statement was read aloud at Calgary’s ‘truth and justice’ rally on Saturday and it instantly sparked outrage and deep sadness amongst attendees.
Johnston began to cry and couldn’t immediately find the words to express her emotions.
“I’m speechless, I just want to scream and yell because the attorney general’s statement is such a slap in the face,” she said as tears streamed down her face.
“We’re not going to stop, so the government can go back and forth all them want amongst themselves, but there’s going to be justice and they need to be held accountable especially for the kids and all the innocent children that were taken from their parents.”
At the time of writing this article, nearly 70,000 Canadians have now signed a petition to put an end to the legal battle between the federal government survivors of the St. Anne’s residential school.
Another petition started by Angus and Qaqqaq has also garnered more than 20,000 signatures, outlining the demands to hire a fully funded special prosecutor to investigate abuse and violence in Canada’s residential school system.
The petition calls on an independent prosecutor to additionally seek advice from the International Criminal Court, and subpoena documents from Ottawa and church institutions so that may be made available to the public.
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