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MKO calls on feds to investigate residential school system as crime against humanity

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The group representing northern First Nations in Manitoba is once again asking the federal government to investigate the residential school system as a crime against humanity.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) sent a third letter Tuesday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Arif Virani.

It calls on the feds to investigate the residential school system as a crime against humanity and an act of genocide under an International Criminal Court statute.

"When there is a genocide, there are political and legal ramifications, and Canada has refused responsibility for many things historically, but I think once they have admitted to things, that there is wrongdoing here, that they are able to respond," MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in an interview with CTV News Winnipeg.

The letter points to a comment Trudeau made in a June 16 Canadian Press article, saying Russia needs to be held accountable for the 'element of genocide' committed against Ukrainian children during the war.

Trudeau made the comments while in Switzerland for a peace summit aimied at sparking discussions of a path toward ending the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks with Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the closing press conference of the Ukraine peace summit in Obbürgen, Switzerland, Sunday, June 16, 2024. Switzerland is hosting scores of world leaders this weekend to try to map out the first steps toward peace in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

"It was kind of hypocritical I think for our Prime Minister to go to other countries and state facts and state that this is genocide, by taking kids away from their families and all the things about erasing their culture, their language – and this happened to us," Settee said.

"It took 150 years for many people to apologize. This is insulting, I think, but I think we should do more for the victims of the residential school system even now. Instead of reaching out to other countries, deal with our people first."

MKO said if Ottawa refuses to start an investigation, it will pursue the matter with the United Nations for referral to the International Criminal Court.

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of the Manitoba Keewatinow Okimakanak speaks during a press conference at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa, on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

A spokesperson for the federal justice minister said in an emailed statement Virani had a "constructive meeting" with Grand Chief Settee and MKO officials in Geneva to discuss addressing the painful legacy of residential schools and the need for equitable access to justice.

He said the appointment of Kimberly Murray as independent special interlocutor is a critical step in ensuring unmarked graves and residential school burial sites are respectfully and appropriately treated and protected.

“Ms. Murray is currently working with survivors, community members and leadership across the country to help chart a path forward, identifying needed measures and recommending a new legal framework that respects the dignity of Indigenous children and burial sites," the statement reads.

“We will take the time to give proper consideration to the Special Interlocutor’s recommendations as we await her final report expected this fall."

Grand Chief Settee hopes the federal government takes Murray's recommendations seriously, as MKO has already made "very strong recommendations" to her. He hopes her final report will illicit action from the federal government.

"If they take her seriously, if they take her word and her recommendations seriously, then I think we're getting somewhere."

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