Guatemalan forensic expert to Indigenous peoples in Canada: “You’re not alone. Your Mayan brothers and sisters have gone through this.”

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Fredy Peccerelli, the director and co-founder of the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG), is making the link between genocide against Indigenous peoples in his country and the territories known as Canada.

Peccerelli was born in Guatemala but had to flee to the United States in 1980 when he was 9 years old due to death threats against his father, who was a law student at the time. The forerunner of the FAFG conducted its first exhumation in Guatemala in July 1992, it was restyled as a foundation in 1997.

Brett Forester of CBC News now reports: “The head of a Guatemalan forensic anthropology group is offering his support for Indigenous communities in Canada as they investigate unmarked burials linked to residential schools.”

Peccerelli says: “You’re not alone. Your Mayan brothers and sisters have gone through this for the last many decades searching for their loved ones.”

Photo: The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project accompanied this exhumation conducted by Peccerelli’s organization FAFG in Chel, Quiché in January 1998. PBI-Canada Board member Marianna Tzabiras was at that exhumation.

More than twenty years later, PBI-Guatemala accompanied this exhumation in September 2019 by FAFG and the National Coordination of Widows of Guatemala (Conavigua) in the Carrizal community of the municipality of Chiché el Quiché.

The CBC article adds: “[Peccerelli] was struck by the detection of more than 200 suspected unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in 2021 and felt obliged to reach out. …He visited Canada twice following the Kamloops announcement and still watches reports closely.”

It further notes: “Kimberly Murray, the special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked graves associated with Indian residential schools, invited Peccerelli to give a keynote address at a gathering in Edmonton last fall. Following the event, she suggested the FAFG’s Indigenous-led approach offers a model for communities here. She cited it approvingly in a recent brief to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

More than 200,000 people were killed in Guatemala during the 36-year internal armed conflict that ended in 1996. Of those killed, an estimated 45,000 were forcibly disappeared with their bodies buried in unmarked pits or dumped in mass graves.

The United Nations-backed Commission for Historical Clarification concluded that agents of the Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against Mayan groups, finding the military treated the entire Mayan population as an enemy of the state.

In Canada, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their parents and sent to at least 139 state-funded “residential schools” operated by churches starting in 1883 as part of a genocidal campaign of forced assimilation.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are implicated in the forcibly removal of Indigenous children from their families. Painting by Kent Monkman.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada documented the deaths of 3,201 children at these residential schools, but its chair Justice Murray Sinclair has stated that 6,000 children may have died in them, while Cindy Blackstock and Pam Palmater have estimated that more than 12,000 children died in them.

In May 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said ground-penetrating radar had detected the remains of more than 200 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

As of January 2022, more than 1,800 confirmed or suspected unmarked graves of Indigenous children have been identified in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Nova Scotia.

In January of this year, The New York Times reported: “Chief Chris Skead of the Anishinabe of Wauzhushk Onigum Nation said 171 ‘plausible’ graves of former pupils had been found at St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario.”

Peace Brigades International-Canada remains attentive to the struggle for justice for Indigenous peoples and the recovery of the remains of those forcibly disappeared in both Guatemala and the lands and territories known as Canada.

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