Winnipeg-based group ‘deeply concerned’ by federal contract with international group to advise on graves

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says there are many problems with a $2 million contract Ottawa signed with an international group to give advice on unmarked graves.

The Winnipeg-based centre said it is “deeply concerned” with the decision by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to hire a Netherlands-based organization to launch “an extremely sensitive engagement process” on issues surrounding possible gravesites near former residential schools.

The federal government recently announced it had hired the International Commission on Missing Persons to provide it with advice, based on an outreach campaign with different communities interested in hearing possible options around DNA and other forensic techniques.

Last week, the commission released a copy of the technical agreement it had signed with the government in January, confirming the final report will be due to the federal government by mid-June, with officials allowed to comment on drafts.

Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, said seeing the agreement itself raises more questions.

A woman with long black hair and grey streaks wearing a blue jacket looks away from the camera with a trees in the background.
Stephanie Scott, the executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, says seeing the federal government’s agreement with a Netherlands-based company to give advice on unmarked grave raises many questions. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

Eugene Arcand, who sits as a member of its survivors circle, said he cannot understand why Ottawa would look to an international group that lacks knowledge of the residential school system and “cultural competency” needed for such sensitive discussions.

The centre said it has already raised concerns with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller and plans to make more recommendations.

His office said the agreement is subject to amendments to be “jointly considered” by federal officials and the international commission.

The agreement itself also states Indigenous facilitators will be hired to be present at the discussions and meet the “spiritual and ceremonial” needs of participants throughout the process.

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