A group assembled to oversee the search into potential grave sites identified near former residential schools has refused to work with a Hague-based international organization dedicated to assisting governments with identifying missing persons and exhuming mass graves. 

The National Advisory Committee on Residential Schools Missing Children and Unmarked Burials said yesterday that it could not trust the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) because it is “non-Indigenous.”

“While the (committee) is appreciative of a number of changes that have since been made to this agreement, we remain deeply concerned that such an important and sensitive process has been entrusted to a non-Indigenous organization with no prior history of working with residential school survivors,” a statement by the committee reads. 

First established in 1996 at a G7 summit, the ICMP’s first mission was to investigate missing people in the wake of the Yugoslav Wars. As of 2001, the group has developed a DNA identification system for missing persons as well as a world-recognized specialized missing persons database. 

Over the years, the ICMP has worked in assisting in locating missing persons and conducting exhumations in the US related to Hurricane Katrina and internationally in Iraq, Colombia and Libya. 

The ICMP’s mandate is to “to secure the co-operation of governments and other authorities in locating persons missing as a result of conflicts, human rights abuses, disasters, organized violence and other causes and to assist them in doing so.” 

According to a Feb. 17 press release, the ICMP wrote that it would “provide support to Residential School Survivors and Indigenous communities in Canada.” 

“ICMP will conduct information sessions and a country-wide outreach campaign for Indigenous communities that wish to explore options for identifying and repatriating remains of missing loved ones from unmarked burial sites associated with former Residential Schools,” a press release states. 

At the time Liberal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller claimed that the ICMP’s work was “necessary” to the process.

“The support of ICMP is necessary to rebuild our trust and relationship with Indigenous peoples, communities, and organizations, and is an important step toward reconciliation,” said Miller at the time.