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Justice minister meeting with B.C. Indigenous leaders in Chilliwack as ‘trust-building exercise’

‘It’s important to see the sites,’ Minister David Lametti said of residential school site tour
Coqualeetza Indian Residential School building, circa 1880s. (Photograph courtesy of the Chilliwack Museum and Archives and Chilliwack Progress, P3304)

David Lametti, the federal minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, will be in Chilliwack on Thursday (May 19) touring the former Coqualeetza Indian Residential School site, and meeting with Indigenous leaders from across B.C.

“It’s a trust-building exercise,” Lametti told The Chilliwack Progress.

It’s been almost a year since the first 215 unmarked graves were found with the help of ground-penetrating radar at the former Kamloops Residential School site. The justice minister has been checking in with Indigenous political leadership to see where they’re at in dealing with the former sites in their communities.

“It’s important to see the sites,” Lametti said. “It’s important to really be there with community leaders, the elders and survivors of residential school system to get a sense of what happened. That is critically important in order to see justice done.”

He’s been on a whirlwind tour meeting with Saskatchewan and B.C. leaders this week.

Whatever comes of the discussions, the justice minister said “in all cases” he will be following the guidance of local Indigenous leadership, informed by elders and survivors with local knowledge, in how they want to proceed with any potential burial site searches or ground surveys.

“Some may opt for ground-penetrating radar. Others may not,” he said of the various directions that may be taken in terms of uncovering histories.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti photographed in Ottawa, Dec. 7, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti photographed in Ottawa, Dec. 7, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

RELATED: Interviewers seek survivors of St. Mary’s Residential School

“We know that retraumatization can occur every time we identify another site,” Lametti added. The federal government has earmarked half a billion dollars under the portfolio of the Indigenous Services minister, to work with Indigenous communities, as they continue supporting research into missing children and burial sites.

In terms of local area research, interviews of survivors of St. Mary’s Residential School is being undertaken by the Stólō Tribal Council, and Stólō Nation leadership has said it plans to execute ground searches at St. Mary’s and Coqualeetza, as well as the researching all historical files related to the Coqualeetza site in Chilliwack, All Hallows in Yale, and St. Mary’s in Mission. Stólō Nation will also be interviewing Coqualeetza survivors.

Lametti is about to appoint an independent “special interlocutor” who will act as a go-between for the federal government and Indigenous peoples, working to strengthen federal laws and practices around dealing with unmarked burial sites.

The soon-to-be-named individual will be a “jurist” with expertise in the law, the minister said, so they can help root out any “legal gaps” in the process of drafting a new legislative framework for dealing with burial sites, while liaising with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

“They (the special interlocutor) will help facilitate the process, helping leadership access documents, helping communities move forward, and helping push us all toward a more just solution.”

RELATED: Justice minister touring residential school sites

RELATED: Findings revealed at Williams Lake First Nation

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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