In an attempt to reconcile wounds inflicted on Aboriginal Canadians through the Indian Residential School (IRS) System, the government of Canada, former IRS students, and several churches agreed to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC provides a forum to acknowledge victims’ experiences and personal losses, educate Canadians about the damages caused by the schools, create a national documentary record, support commemoration of former students, their families and communities, and enable all Canadians to heal from the trauma of the residential school system. The TRC’s original five year mandate was recently extended to seven years and will officially conclude in 2015.
Although the work of the commission is complex and multi-faceted, there was an exceptionally strong requirement for the TRC to collect testimony and documents from survivors of the IRS. Furthermore, commissioners were empowered and required to “archive all such documents, materials, and transcripts or recordings of statements received, in a manner that will ensure their preservation and accessibility to the public and in accordance with access and privacy legislation, and any other applicable legislation…” (Schedule “N:” Mandate for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). One of the responsibilities was to establish a national research centre and ensure the preservation of the TRC records. That research centre will open at the University of Manitoba in 2015.
Since the TRC was established, the Canadian library and archival communities have witnessed a further conflict with respect to the documentary heritage of the residential schools. Although many documents have been transferred to the TRC, a large portion was unusable due to their poor quality, and many more are said to be lost.
This High5 points to resources for information regarding the residential schools and the TRC. Librarians and archivists can participate in the overall reconciliation process by promoting information that encourages healing and ensuring that the records are preserved and accessible for future generations. A basic understanding of the TRC and its associated records is beneficial for librarians and archivists to responsibly support the reconciliation process. The following resources are suggested:
If you or anyone you know would like to contribute their experiences to the TRC record, the “Statement Gathering” website is still accepting submissions which then become part of a permanent archive. Statements will be housed at the national research centre. The TRC also accepts artifacts and other documents by traditional mail. Invitations are broad and welcome the telling of “… direct experiences as a student, as the relative of a student, as someone who worked in the schools, or of any other experience related to residential schools.”
The Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is a legal agreement and the largest class action lawsuit in Canadian history. It is intended to resolve some of the harm that Aboriginal Canadians suffered, and part of that is financial compensation. Former students can expedite claims for financial compensation through the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) which administers compensation to those who suffered physical and/or sexual abuse at a residential school.
The IAP records have recently been ordered destroyed by the Ontario Superior Court after 15 years unless the former student wishes to donate her/his document to the national research centre.The TRC would rather that Library and Archives Canada preserve them. About 28,000 people have gone through the IAP and 10,000 cases are still waiting to be heard.
Of the 160,000 Aboriginal children who attended residential schools, at least 4,000 never returned home. Their families do not know how they died or where they are buried. The TRC established the Missing Children Project to investigate these deaths. While there does not seem to be one central online source for information about the missing children, there are several newspapers articles that can be found online that describe how the provinces are assisting with documentation. The TRC will release information on the missing children in June 2015 as part of the concluding report.
A top level search for “Indian Residential Schools” retrieves several rich collections including a set of photographs of the schools and students from Alberta and a recently created guide on “Conducting Research on Residential Schools.” The guide not only covers what is publicly available at LAC, it also advises on how to request other records through Access to Information (ATIP) requests. The guide points to sources outside of LAC including regional information centres and church archives. There is a good description of what researchers can expect to find at LAC, which includes records relating to school supplies receipts, teacher training, student transportation, medical records and correspondence or other documents regarding the death of students.
This website, designed to teach Canadians about the IRS, is developed for use in the classroom or other learning settings – some religious groups have used it, and one Ontario faculty of Education has too. Material is in the form of lesson plans, interactive questions, activities, videos, historical documents, interactive maps, timelines, visual aids, and so on. Developed by an Ottawa-based teacher, the website is “an innovative educational tool kit designed to engage students in a deeper exploration of indigenous traditions in Canada and the history of Indian residential schools. It is a journey for understanding through the heart and spirit as well as facts and dates.”
Jennifer Dekker is a Subject Specialist Librarian at the University of Ottawa serving the Faculty of Arts. She can be reached at jdekker [at] uottawa.ca.
The High5 column brings together 5 key projects, databases or tools about subjects or issues of consequence to libraries and library users.