A significant fund was set aside by the federal government this week, providing for indigenous groups to engage in research leading to the location and hallowing of the remains of children who died while at Canada’s residential schools. This is long overdue for our indigenous brothers and sisters. UCCLA applauds the federal government for starting to atone for the forced relocation and suspension of liberties our First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples suffered via that system.
It is a precedent.
Between 1914 and 1920, thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans were branded "enemy aliens," forced to labour for the profit of their jailers, disenfranchised, and subjected to other state-sanctioned censures.
They were victims not only of wartime xenophobia but of pre-war racist prejudices that would persist long after the end of Canada’s first national internment operations. There were 24 camps across Canada where internees were held, including women and children, the latter at Vernon, B.C., and Spirit Lake, Que. (known today as La Ferme, near Amos).
A cemetery established at Spirit Lake by the federal government holds the remains of 19 internees, including children; the whereabouts of at least one child, Nellie Manko, remain uncertain. Despite repeated requests from the Ukrainian Canadian community for government assistance in securing, restoring, and properly marking this unique historical site, no action has been taken, preferring this cemetery remain forgotten. The site is rapidly deteriorating, and will soon vanish into the Abitibi. This is unacceptable.
Now that a $27-million federal fund is established for our fellow indigenous Canadians to locate, restore, and properly commemorate those places where innocents were buried, the UCCLA is asking federal Heritage Minister, the Hon. Steven Guilbeault, to redress the situation at the Spirit Lake internee cemetery, as well as the situation at other unmarked graves elsewhere.
The precedent of the June 3 announcement makes federal intervention appropriate, necessary, and urgent.
Commenting, UCCLA’s chairman, Roman Zakaluzny, said:
“We applaud our indigenous brothers and sisters for finally being able to move forward with locating and hallowing their deceased children, victims of the federal government’s residential school system. We hope that Ukrainians Canadians, victims of a federal government forced relocation and internment program, can also do the same.
“On Sunday, June 20 – Father’s Day – Canada will mark the 101st anniversary of the conclusion of the internment operations of Ukrainian and other Europeans that began during the First World War and continued for two years after. Let us not forget the men, but also women and children like Nellie Manko, who to this day remain in unmarked graves at various former federal internment camps across Canada.”
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The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (L'Association ukrainienne-canadienne des droits civils) is a non-partisan, voluntary, non-profit research and educational organization committed to the articulation and promotion of the Ukrainian Canadian community's interests and to the defence of the civil liberties and human rights of Ukrainians in Canada and elsewhere.