Kamloops burials should be investigated as 'crime against humanity,' says Windsor law school's acting dean

Beverly Jacobs commends Ontario for vowing to identify and commemorate residential school burial sites. But more action is needed, says the acting dean of the University of Windsor's law faculty who's a member of the Mohawk Nation from the Six Nations of the Grand River.

Beverly Jacobs, of Mohawk Nation from the Six Nations of the Grand River, wants more accountability

Beverly Jacobs, the acting dean of Windsor Law at the University of Windsor, welcomes Ontario's pledge to help Indigenous communities identify and commemorate residential school burial sites, but says Ottawa needs to 'rectify' what has been done. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The acting dean of the University of Windsor's law faculty commends Ontario for pledging millions of dollars to identify and commemorate residential school burial sites, but says more action is needed to show upper levels of government have taken full accountability for their role in the system.

Beverly Jacobs, a member of the Mohawk Nation from the Six Nations of the Grand River, said her main call to action is for the detection of an estimated 215 graves near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. to be investigated as a "crime against humanity" — with those involved in the school system being charged with genocide.

"My question is, what are the feds doing? The province can support what's happening in the communities, but my arguments and my claim is against Canada. What is Canada doing to rectify what it's done to implement the residential school and the genocidal policies that still exist?  

"I have lots of family who have been affected by this and so, it's traumatizing."

On Tuesday, Ontario announced it is earmarking $10 million in funding over a three-year span to identify, investigate and commemorate residential school burial sites.

Jacobs said she'd like to see more done to "rectify" the past. 

WATCH | Jacobs explains what she'd like to see done: 

Professor says province's $10M pledge doesn't go far enough to 'rectify' past

7 months ago
Duration 0:38
Beverly Jacobs says she has yet to see upper levels of government take action to 'rectify' the past of residential schools. She says the Kamloops discovery must be investigated as a crime against humanity and all parties involved with the residential school system should be charged with genocide. 0:38

"If this is a step toward reconciliation, then it needs to be said right out front, especially Canada has to accept responsibility for the genocide. I haven't heard anyone say that yet. Canada needs to take responsibility for its intergenerational impacts of the residential school system."

Meanwhile, the federal government has set aside $27.1 million to assist Indigenous communities in identifying unmarked burial sites at former residential schools.

Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario has asked for more than a third of that funding to search for possible remains of children on the grounds of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School — where Jacobs's relatives were forced to attend.

WATCH | Jacobs's grandmother refused to acknowledge Mohawk heritage after leaving school system: 

Beverly Jacobs on her ancestors' experience in residential school

7 months ago
Duration 1:06
Beverly Jacobs says her elders were forced to eat rotten oatmeal. By the time they left the residential school system, her ancestors were scared to carry on their Mohawk heritage. 1:06

"Even as an intergenerational survivor myself, when you know the impact that it's had on family, on my maternal family — it's devastated our families. Identity wise, relationship wise, community wise, and so it's impacting future generations," said Jacobs. 

"I'm one person to acknowledge what it's done to my family, and we think of how many families have been affected and what we need to do to rectify that and make things better ... It's hard."

Though it was not addressed at Tuesday's Ontario news conference, there have been calls for the Roman Catholic Church to be involved in the reconciliation process.

Pope Francis has expressed "closeness to traumatized Canadians" over the Kamloops burial sites — but has not offered a formal apology for the Catholic Church's role in operating many residential schools in Canada.

For Jacobs, not only does the church need to offer that formal apology, but it needs to be done so publicly.

WATCH | Hear more of Jacobs's calls for an apology: 

Beverly Jacobs on why the Catholic Church must offer formal apology

7 months ago
Duration 0:56
Beverly Jacobs says a formal apology would be a clear path toward reconciling with Indigenous people across Canada. 0:56

With files from Adam Carter