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'These sites are not protected': The push to legislate the protection of Indigenous remains, artifacts


Hundreds are gathering in Winnipeg this week for an event aimed at legislating the protection of the remains and artifacts of Indigenous ancestors in Canada.

Protecting Our Ancestors is a three-day conference hosted in partnership between Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) and Sioux Valley Dakota Nation.

MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee says the conference is aimed at developing a national policy or legislation that will protect Indigenous remains.

“Since we discovered so many unmarked graves beginning at Kamloops and also Cowessess and different parts, we realized that these sites are not protected,” he said in an interview Tuesday on CTV Morning Live Winnipeg.

“Some of them are on private land and some of them are unmarked all over former residential school sites. We want to be able to work towards a process where these sites are protected.”

Settee hopes to model the legislation after the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in the United States, which ensures the protection, control, disposition and repatriation of ancestral remains and belongings.

Presenters at the conference are experts at developing such policies.

Settee says the challenge will be getting the federal and provincial governments to develop the law.

While the country is now becoming awake to the harms caused by residential schools, he says, protection of Indigenous remains and artifacts must extend beyond these grounds.

“Culturally, our ancestors do not belong in museums, our ancestral artifacts do not belong in places where it’s not appropriate, and that’s what we’re promoting here, is our cultural perspectives when it comes to our ancestors.”

The conference runs at the RBC Convention Centre from Feb. 20 to 22.

- With files from CTV’s Rachel Lagacé Top Stories

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