The First Nations community that shocked Canada with the discovery of unmarked graves says school records will be critical in identifying victims – and that a much greater area needs to be searched to understand the true scale of the tragedy.
Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation released on Thursday its first full report on the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school.
“We are not here for retaliation. We are here for truth telling,” Kúkpi7 (chief) Rosanne Casimir said at a presentation of the findings. “We are here today to honour the missing children in our caretakership who have experienced unthinkable circumstances leading to their death and whose remains were placed in unmarked graves.”
The report comes nearly two months after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced ground-penetrating radar had identified suspected unmarked graves.
At least 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools across the country, which were funded by the federal government and run by churches as part of the campaign to strip the youth of their cultural identity.
Since then, other First Nations have reported similar discoveries at the site of former residential schools.
Cowessess First Nation in the province of Saskatchewan announced 751 potential unmarked grave sites last month and 182 graves were discovered near the St Eugene residential school in south-eastern British Columbia. Earlier this week, Penelakut Tribe said more than 160 undocumented graves had been found near the site of the Kuper Island residential school.
Casimir called on the federal government to release attendance records to begin the process of identifying potential victims.
“Every student who ever attended the Kamloops residential school is documented in those records,” she said. “We are loth to put the responsibility of identifying those lost on the survivors … who have been traumatized and re-traumatized already.”
Casimir also called on the Catholic church to release its records, taking aim at an institution that has faced growing criticism over its failure to compensate survivors.
“The Roman Catholic church has repeatedly refused to accept responsibility or formally apologize for its direct role in the numerous and horrific abuses committed … through the residential school system,” she said.
As part of the announcement, survivors of the school testified about the legacy of the institution.
Evelyn Camille, a Tk’emlups te Secwepemc elder who was forced to attend the school, said many had long warned of missing children, but were ignored.
“Truth and reconciliation? I often wondered, ‘What the hell does that mean?’ Do they want to hear the truth, really? We have tried to tell them the truth,” she said. “Who is going to listen?”
Camille called on the graves to remain untouched. “Yes there may have to be some studies to be done, but what good are those studies going to do for us?”
Only two acres of the site, an apple orchard, have been studied – a space that has “barely scratched the surface”, said Dr Sarah Beaulieu, a specialist in ground-penetrating radar who has worked with the community. An additional 160 acres – 647,500 square meters – still require surveying.
Stories of children as young as six being awoken in the night to dig holes for burials, as well as the discovery of a juvenile rib bone and tooth in that area, prompted the initial search earlier this year.
Only excavation and forensic study, however, can conclusively confirm how many children are buried on the grounds, said Beaulieu.
“Remote sensing such as [ground penetrating radar] is not necessary to know that children went missing in the Indian residential school context. This fact, this knowledge has been recognized by Indigenous communities for generations,” she said. “All residential school landscapes are likely to contain burials and missing children. And remote sensing such as [radar] merely provides some spatial specificity to this truth.”
‘We just sleep and hope we don’t perish’: 2m in Tigray in urgent need of food – UN | Hunger
At least 2 million people in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray are suffering from an extreme lack of food, with the 15-month conflict between rebel and government forces pushing families to the brink, the UN’s emergency food agency has found.
In the first comprehensive assessment the World Food Programme (WFP) has carried out in Tigray since the start of the war, 37% of the population were found to be severely food insecure, meaning they had at times run out of food and gone a day or more without eating.
Families were found to be “exhausting all means to feed themselves”, with 13% of Tigrayan children under five and almost two-thirds of pregnant and breastfeeding women suffering from malnutrition.
“Before the conflict we were eating three times a day but now even once a day is difficult. I was borrowing food from my family but now they have run out. We just sleep and hope we do not perish,” Kiros, a single mother of six children living on the outskirts of the region’s capital, Mekelle, told researchers.
The assessment, which was based on face-to-face interviews with 980 households in accessible parts of Tigray, was carried out from mid-November until mid-December.
However, researchers were unable to travel to areas where fighting is impeding humanitarian access. Moreover, since the assessment was carried out, the needs of the region are thought to have become even more acute as no aid convoy has reached Tigray for about six weeks.
“This bleak assessment reconfirms that what the people of northern Ethiopia need is scaled up humanitarian assistance, and they need it now,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director for eastern Africa.
“WFP is doing all it can to ensure our convoys with food and medicines make it through the frontlines. But if hostilities persist, we need all the parties to the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause and formally agreed transport corridors, so that supplies can reach the millions besieged by hunger.”
Across northern Ethiopia, where fighting has raged in the regions of Afar and Amhara as well as Tigray, WFP estimates that 9 million people are in need of humanitarian food assistance, the highest number yet.
In Amhara, hunger has more than doubled in five months, it says. In Afar, where fighting has intensified in recent days between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and forces loyal to the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, recent health screening data showed malnutrition rates for children under five were at 28%, far above the standard emergency threshold of 15%.
Since the conflict erupted in November 2020, it has been difficult for the UN and other humanitarian organisations to gauge the level of need in Tigray due to a lack of on-the-ground access and telecommunications. The UN has accused the federal government of preventing food and essential medical supplies from coming into the region in a de-facto blockade. The government denies this.
On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had made its first delivery of medical supplies to Mekelle since last September. The drugs are understood to have included enough insulin supplies to last about a month, after medics at the Ayder referral hospital raised the alarm over severe shortages.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, recently accused Abiy’s government of imposing a “hell” on Tigray by denying entry to medical supplies.
“It is a huge relief that this first shipment is reaching hospitals,” said Apollo Barasa, health coordinator at the ICRC delegation in Ethiopia. “This assistance is a lifeline for thousands of people, and I can’t emphasise enough how crucial it is that these deliveries continue.”
Asylum applications on rise in EU
The EU Agency for Asylum on Friday said the number of asylum applications in November 2021 was the second-highest in five years, narrowly below the level in September. About 71,400 applications for international protection were lodged in the “EU+” (EU, plus Norway and Switzerland) in November 2021, up by nine percent from October. “This was the second-highest level since 2016,” it said.
Protests flare across Poland after death of young mother denied an abortion | Abortion
Protests are under way across Poland after the death of a 37-year-old woman this week who was refused an abortion, a year since the country introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.
On the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday night, protesters laid wreaths and lanterns in memory of Agnieszka T, who died earlier that day. She was pregnant with twins when one of the foetus’ heartbeat stopped and doctors refused to carry out an abortion. In a statement, her family accused the government of having “blood on its hands”. Further protests are planned in Częstochowa, the city in southern Poland where the mother-of-three was from.
“We continue to protest so that no one else will die,” Marta Lempart, organiser of the protests, told Polish media. “The Polish abortion ban kills. Another person has died because the necessary medical procedure was not carried out on time.” All-Poland Women’s Strike has called on people across the country to picket the offices of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and organise road blockades in the coming days.
Agnieszka was first admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa with abdominal pain on 21 December. She is said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she arrived and was in “a good physical and mental shape”, according to her family, who said her condition then deteriorated.
On 21 December the heartbeat of one of the twins stopped and, according to Agnieszka’s family, the doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation. They waited several days until the second foetus also died. A further two days passed before the pregnancy was terminated on 31 December, according to the family.
A priest was then summoned by hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, the family said.
The family say that the doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy earlier, citing Poland’s abortion legislation. “Her husband begged the doctors to save his wife, even at the cost of the pregnancy,” Agnieszka’s twin sister, Wioletta Paciepnik, said on Tuesday.
After the termination, Agnieszka was moved from the gynaecological ward and her health continued to deteriorate. Her family suspect that she died of sepsis but the cause of death was not identified in a statement released by the hospital.
Shortly after her death, a statement by her family accusing the hospital of neglect was published on Facebook, alongside a distressing video of Agnieszka’s last days.
Agnieszka’s death marks the first anniversary of the 2021 ruling that declared abortion due to foetal abnormalities illegal. Abortion can now only be carried out in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life and health are in danger.
Her death comes after that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was refused an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found that “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined. Soon after, an anonymous man from Świdnica in south-west Poland came forward to share that his wife, Ania, died in similar circumstances in June last year.
While “selective abortion” is possible in the case of a twin pregnancy, it is unclear whether aborting an unviable foetus to save its healthy twin is permitted by the new abortion legislation. The Polish court has not referenced the questions raised by this situation, presented by opposition senators last year, in the new legislation.
“We want to honour the memory of my beloved sister and save other women in Poland from a similar fate,” Paciepnik said in a video appeal. The case is now being investigated by the regional prosecutors in Katowice, who also investigated the case of Izabela.
The family are represented by Kamila Ferenc, from the Federation for Women and Family Planning, who confirmed that an autopsy of Agnieszka’s body has been ordered by the court.
According to a statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. The hospital did not respond to the Guardian for a request for comment.
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