OTTAWA — Manitoba's three grand chiefs say they're disappointed in the Pallister government's response to a national reckoning around residential-school burial sites, with other Prairie premiers promising more specific action.

OTTAWA — Manitoba's three grand chiefs say they're disappointed in the Pallister government's response to a national reckoning around residential-school burial sites, with other Prairie premiers promising more specific action.

"Almost all these individuals, on the provincial level, have my cellphone number; they're more than free to text me. But no one has made an effort to do so," said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

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Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

He said the assembly's women's council is trying to book a meeting with provincial officials.

"It sort of speaks truth to the issue of the disconnect that exists between these institutions and how they are incapable of working with us in a meaningful way," Dumas said Wednesday.

Premier Brian Pallister chalked that criticism up to politics.

On June 1, provincial Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke wrote to 117 Indigenous leaders, promising that Manitoba would work with Indigenous groups and Ottawa on "researching graves of missing children."

“Almost all these individuals, on the provincial level, have my cellphone number; they're more than free to text me. But no one has made an effort to do so” — Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

The letter was sent to every band council in the province, as well as prominent outreach centres and foster-care agencies.

A day prior, the other two Prairie provinces made more specific pledges.

"I am announcing the Alberta government’s intention to fund research into the undocumented deaths and burials of hundreds of Indigenous children who did not make their way home," Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson wrote on May 31.

That same day, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said research is need on possible burial sites "including radar ground search. Saskatchewan is prepared to support this work through the Ministry of First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs."

Premier Brian Pallister.

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Premier Brian Pallister.

Pallister did not explain when asked Wednesday why Manitoba isn't doing the same.

He instead said Dumas was trying to score political points as he seeks re-election.

"We actually have offered ongoing support, on an ongoing basis," the premier said, in response to questions from the Free Press.

"There is an AMC grand chief election on right now, (so) measure your need for a response based on the reality of that election campaign that is presently underway."

The NDP Opposition had similarly pressed Pallister last week to promise the same actions as Alberta and Saskatchewan; the premier instead said the former government didn't do enough for reconciliation.

“There is an AMC grand chief election on right now, (so) measure your need for a response based on the reality of that election campaign that is presently underway.” — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said the PC cabinet reached out a few days after 215 unmarked children’s graves in Kamloops, B.C., came to light, and discussed the implications in Manitoba of burial sites.

The organization is hoping the province will soon outline specific ways it can help.

Northern Grand Chief Garrison Settee: “This is just the beginning of the conversation; we need to continue to talk."

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Northern Grand Chief Garrison Settee: “This is just the beginning of the conversation; we need to continue to talk."

"This is just the beginning of the conversation; we need to continue to talk," said northern Grand Chief Garrison Settee.

The Southern Chiefs Organization says it wants the province to join those declaring the actions of residential schools to be a genocide, arguing that this will help communities heal.

The organization said it isn't aware of any promised actions, but did appreciate the PCs offering condolences shortly after the news broke in Kamloops.

"I don't think we've heard much more than that from the provincial government."

Local MP to have Commons vote on genocide label

OTTAWA — Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Leah Gazan will ask her fellow 337 MPs on Thursday to unanimously declare that residential schools committed genocide.

"It's time that this government acknowledges the truth, that Canada and churches perpetrated genocide on Indigenous peoples, specifically children,” Gazan told reporters.

"If we are going to move forward, this truth needs to be told."

OTTAWA — Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Leah Gazan will ask her fellow 337 MPs on Thursday to unanimously declare that residential schools committed genocide.

"It's time that this government acknowledges the truth, that Canada and churches perpetrated genocide on Indigenous peoples, specifically children,” Gazan told reporters.

"If we are going to move forward, this truth needs to be told."

Around 2 p.m. on Thursday, she will seek unanimous consent from the House of Commons to recognize that what happened at Indian Residential Schools was an act of genocide, under the United Nations Genocide Convention.

Gazan cited clauses in the convention that include “causing serious bodily or mental harm” to an identifiable group and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

She said the term “cultural genocide” used by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission does not exist in international law.

Advocates have said formally recognizing a genocide would help families feel understood. Yet scholars debate what tangible impact such a designation would have under international law, or whether it would help global organizations to push Canada for policy changes.

If the motion fails, there will be limited opportunities for the NDP to ask for debate and vote on a similar motion before the looming summer recess.

— Dylan Robertson

Ottawa has reallocated a previously announced $27-million fund for commemorating residential schools to allow bands to do archaeological searches. But many don't understand how to apply for funds, while volunteers and corporations are offering to do this work free.

Researchers have urged the Trudeau government to implement standards for burial-ground searches, to prevent potential criminal evidence from being altered, though the Liberals have only said they're open to such an idea.

"There is no response to the things that we’re demanding," Settee said.

"There is a lot of investigation that need to be done; there’s nothing that’s happening right now to help us move forward."

Chiefs also said Wednesday they need more federal funding for support programs for residential school survivors, which former Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Murray Sinclair says is severely lacking.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca