Ottawa inks deal to share more residential school records with reconciliation centre

Ottawa inks deal to share more residential school records with reconciliation centre

OTTAWA — Canada’s Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller announced Thursday Ottawa has entered into an agreement with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to hand over thousands more records on residential schools that the federal government has been holding back.

The government says the agreement outlines how and when it will send the historical documents to the Winnipeg-based centre, which will, in turn,make them available to residential school survivors and work to preserve them.

The agreement comes after Miller announced last month the government was reviewing the records in its possession to see what more it could release to help survivors — a process he said would be ongoing.

He said at the time that it would begin by sending what is known as previously undisclosed “school narratives,” which are reports written by the government outlining key events that happened at individual institutions. Those narratives relate to schools that operated across Western Canada.

Stephanie Scott, the centre’s executive director, said Ottawa’s transfer of these records will help piece together how the church-run federally funded residential school system was administered and provide a more complete picture of what survivors experienced.

“Whether it’s finding unmarked graves or gathering records of what took place — it helps us honour and remember all the children who never made it home,” Scott said.

Survivors and Indigenous leaders have long called on the federal government to release remaining records that it had refused to fully disclose, citing legal obligations it had to third parties, including Catholic entities that operated the institutions. Some of those entities are now defunct.

The demands grew louder last year after several First Nations, including the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in Kamloops, B.C., announced ground-penetrating radar had located what are believed to be the remains of hundreds of children in unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools.

“There’s a lot of truth to still be uncovered, so when we receive this additional record set, communities like Kamloops will be able to have information and access to information,” said Scott.

The Liberal government’s decision to review its cache of records followed the centre saying last fall that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was incorrect when he told a gathering of Indigenous leaders on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory that it had turned over everything it had.

Garnet Angeconeb, a survivor of the Pelican Lake Indian Residential School and a member of the centre’s survivor circle, said the transfer of documents is important for the country to be able to acknowledge its history, which is necessary to move forward.

“The records that will be handed over will be a way to get at the truth to be able to tell our stories,” he told Thursday’s news conference.

“To be able to validate and acknowledge where we have come from as survivors, as a country.”

Scott also said she hoped the federal government’s spring budget would include funding for the centre to get a new building and more resources to properly archive and share documents.

Miller said his government inked those promises into the Liberals’ 2021 election platform and it intends to honour them.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press