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Ottawa names special interlocutor on unmarked graves at former residential schools

The federal government has named Kimberly Murray, the former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada, as special interlocutor on unmarked graves at former residential schools.

Murray, a member of the Kahnesatake Mohawk Nation, will be tasked with working with Indigenous Peoples to make recommendations to strengthen federal laws and practices to protect and preserve unmarked burial sites.

“I promise that I will do everything in my power to ensure that the office of the special interlocutor is here to help and not do further harm in any way,” said Murray during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.

“I’m ready to hear about the new unique barriers your communities have had and continue to have while doing this sacred work.”

Justice Minister David Lametti and Crown-Indigenous relations Minister Marc Miller made the announcement alongside Indigenous leaders on Wednesday.

“This appointment presents a renewed opportunity to work together on building a positive healing future for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. It's a critical step in our journey towards reconciliation,” said Lametti.


As special interlocutor, Murray will help Indigenous communities weave through the different jurisdictional and legal hurdles at various burial sites and facilitate dialogue with relevant governments and institutions, including churches.

She will address issues around the identification, preservation, and protection of unmarked graves, including the repatriation of remains, if so desired.

“I expect when I go to communities and meet with survivors and leadership that I will hear about these conversations about how they've struggled with what to do, how to have prosecution. Do we invite the police in? What police? RCMP, provincial police, municipal police, First Nations police?” Murray said.

“I'm looking forward to speaking to each of them, hearing about the different ideas that they have about what they can do on this road to justice.”

She is expected to produce two reports – an interim report after year one and the final report – both of which will be delivered to Ottawa, First Nations, Metis and Inuit survivors, communities, and families. The reports will also be made public.

This is a non-partisan, independent position, which Ottawa set aside $10.4 million dollars over two years to support.

Miller said the role holds the federal government to account and ensures it’s not inserting itself in a “painful” and “triggering” process.

“Kim Murray will fill a very important gap in making sure that we're not only doing things in a concerted fashion at the federal level and supporting in the best way, but also liaising with communities and building a level of trust that wouldn't be afforded to us frankly,” he said.


Most recently, Murray served as the executive lead of the Survivors’ Secretariat at the Six Nations of the Grand River to help recover the unmarked burials at the Mohawk Institute – the longest running residential school in Canada.

Prior to that, she acted as Ontario’s first-ever Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Indigenous Justice and chaired the Expert Panel on Policing in Indigenous Communities.

From 2010 to 2015, Murray was the executive director of the TRC.


It’s been just over a year since Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation declared that the remains of 215 children had been found at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Although that figure was later revised to 200, hundreds more unmarked graves have been identified across the country in the months since, with dozens of additional searches currently ongoing or being planned.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were mostly forced from their families to attend the boarding schools from the late 1800s to 1996, with the goal of replacing Indigenous languages and culture with English and Christian beliefs.

The Liberals have faced criticism for their handling of the discoveries, namely for their degree of sincerity to take concrete action.

Responding to Wednesday’s announcement, Conservative Crown-Indigenous Relations critic Gary Vidal expressed continued skepticism.

“For too long, Indigenous peoples have been waiting for the Liberal government to deliver on their empty promises and commitments to reconciliation. It’s time to make the systemic changes necessary to begin the divestment of program delivery, in order to pursue a self-determined delivery model,” he said in a statement to

NDP Indigenous services critic Lori Idlout meanwhile said the news is an “important step” to healing, but noted the delay in naming the interlocutor is “disappointing.”

The government first announced its intention to create the position in August, 2021.

Months earlier, the Liberals voted against an NDP unanimous consent motion calling on the government to create an independent commission to oversee the gathering of historical records, ground searches, and investigations in accordance with Indigenous communities.

“The NDP continues to call on this government to provide every resource needed so that the truth and justice that is owed to Indigenous peoples is achieved. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities are still calling for increased supports to heal from these traumatic discoveries, and today’s announcement does not change this reality,” Idlout said in a statement.

With files from CTV News' Mike Le Couteur



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