‘We’re not being heard’: Calls to be included in search for unmarked graves

EDMONTON — The descendants of a First Nations band near Edmonton are calling on Ottawa to include them in the search for unmarked graves.

In 1958, the Michel First Nations Indian Band, located outside of Villeneuve, was enfranchised by the federal government.

“Once they did that they basically kicked everybody off the reserve and then they, in turn, privatized the land,” said Kim Beaudin, the national vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Beaudin, a descendant of the Michel band, said the decision was made without input from the majority of band members.

“Two, three people made this decision,” said Beaudin. “There’s a lot of discussion, they (the government) claim that they brought it forward to our people at that time, I disagree.

“They wanted to enfranchise all the bands across Canada, they wanted to assimilate Indigenous people into the collective and the Michel people, was the first one that they focused on.”

Historically, enfranchising people means freeing them, making them a citizen or giving them the right to vote.

“We were told, ‘Well if you enfranchise the band, all these magical things would happen,’ well none of them happened,” said Beaudin. “One of them was the right to vote… well, ok, that wasn’t that great.”

Band members lost their treaty status after being enfranchised.

Band descendants are advocating for Ottawa to reinstate the Michel band. They also want to be included in the search for unmarked graves at residential school sites.

“Presently, we’re not being heard, there’s no discussion with the federal government on a number of issues… but when this issue came up we realized there are stories that need to be told, and we’re not having that opportunity to do that,” said Beaudin.

“I know there’s been discussion about how to build in, in terms of reaching out to our people, but how are you going to do that when the government won’t even talk to you and acknowledge you.”

Earlier in July, a plan to search the site of the former Youville school with ground-penetrating radar was announced.

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