Jul/98: Residential schools violated UN law


Windspeaker News
July 1998, p. 2
Paul Barnsley

The man who will write a report to the United Nations on Canada's residential school system said he has seen evidence that the system was an example of forced assimilation, genocide and forced removal of peoples from their traditional lands. All of those actions are contrary to international human rights conventions, said Rudy James, a member of the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities. James reached that conclusion after observing three days of testimony in front of a 15-member tribunal made up mainly of Indigenous people, a majority of whom were from the United States. The tribunal hearings were completed on June 14 at the Maritime Labor Centre in east Vancouver.

Tribunal members took note of the fact that the federal government, the churches which operated the residential schools and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, all of whom James said were asked to appear for questioning, did not have any official representatives in attendance. Witnesses included several former residential school students and a United Church of Canada minister who was delisted (fired) after criticizing the Port Alberni church executive board. Many of the witnesses told the tribunal they have knowledge of suspicious deaths which occurred in the residential schools. No hard evidence which could lead to criminal charges was provided. Several witnesses said those who attended the residential schools were transported to the schools by the police and therefore had no reason to believe they were safe to take their concerns to the police at the time the alleged deaths occurred.

The International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) is one of 1,356 non-governmental organizations in the world with the standing to issue reports to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, and the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. A United Nations official confirmed that IHRAAM is one of the 666 organizations worldwide listed on a roster of organizations consulted by the economic and social council. James, the tribal leader of the Kuiukwaan people of south-eastern Alaska and a tribal judge with the Combined Tribal Court of Tlingit Law, is a member of the North American branch of IHRAAM, whose northwest regional office is located in Seattle Washington.

James told Windspeaker that former United Church minister Kevin Annett asked IHRAAM to investigate potential human rights abuses connected to the residential school system. After recording seven hours of interviews with victims of abuse at the Port Alberni school, James decided an inquiry into the system and Canada's treatment of the victims of the system was appropriate. The human rights infractions that Canada, several churches, organizations and individuals associated with the schools need to address are: the forced removal of Aboriginal people from traditional lands and waters, institutional racism, psychological warfare, genocide and murder. James said Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart and church officials had been asked to appear as witnesses at the inquiry. The Prime Minister's office said no invitation was received, something James said is not true.

An organization with consultative status does not work at the direction of the United Nations and is not funded, but it is fully screened and follows a written mandate. James said Canada and the churches will be asked to answer for what he believes are serious human rights abuses. "No one can punish a nation," James said. "But so much of what is done by our organization is done through world public opinion. A report will be sent to the High Commissioner and the Secretary General. Canada could be asked for a formal response to the report in the General Assembly." James said he expects to complete his report by late July. He said he may send a preliminary report to the churches involved and to the federal government. "We'll be keenly monitoring the response of the church entities and the Canadian government," he said.

S.I.S.I.S. note: More tribunal sessions are being looked at for other BC locations. For more information please contact Kevin Annett, at kdannett@unixg.ubc.ca

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