Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
One of the school narratives that will soon be in the possession of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will be that of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
And it is only fitting after the uncovering of 215 unmarked burial sites of children at the former school on Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc was announced last May.
That announcement did what an entire volume on missing children and unmarked burials produced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was unable to accomplish: To demonstrate the need to fill the gaps in information to find and identify children who lost their lives while at Indian residential schools.
In a 273-page volume in the TRC’s final report in 2015 on the legacy of Indian residential schools, the commission identified 3,200 deaths, noting that one-third of those deaths did not record the names of the students.
The commission also said there were well over 3,200 children who had died while in the institutions, and there was a need for “continued work on the register: there are many relevant documents that have yet to be reviewed.”
On Jan. 20, Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, and Stephanie Scott, the Truth and Reconciliation Centre’s executive director, signed a memorandum of agreement outlining how and when Canada will share historical documents related to residential schools.
Miller said the agreement was about “transparency, accountability, collaboration and closure.”
“Last year was a turning point for all Canadians. The identification of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country was tangible and painful evidence of the abuse Indigenous children had suffered at residential schools,” said Miller.
“What we’ve seen over five, six months has shifted us away from a position of standing on our legal rights, which are rights, to our moral obligations, which is to get those documents out to the extent possible,” Miller said.
“This is an important step on a journey of reconciliation. It is a step that is frankly long overdue,” said Scott.
“I believe the missing children who were found this summer have guided us to this process and helped move it forward to this announcement today,” she said.
Less than a month after the burial sites were identified in Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc in May 2021, Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan identified 751 unmarked burial sites at the Marieval Indian Residential School.
“(It’s) very important that the records that will be handed over will be a way to get at the truth, to be able to tell our stories, to be able to validate and acknowledge where we have come from as survivors, as a country,” said Garnet Angeconeb, a survivor of Pelican Indian Residential School near Sioux Lookout, Ont., who participated in the virtual announcement yesterday.
It came with the commitment of turning over 11 school narratives within six months. Those narratives will add to the 125 other residential school narratives already held by the centre.
Narratives are reports compiled by Ottawa, said Miller, and these 11 narratives number in the thousands of documents. They include a wide range of information, such as plans of the school sites, enrollment lists, administration, key events and “various levels of confidential information.”
“The Kamloops one is rather extensive. I wouldn’t pretend it to be complete,” said Miller.
Miller committed his staff to “an extensive internal review” of documents held by his department to determine what more could be turned over to the centre, while exercising an “abundance of caution” and retaining records that could be viewed as crucial to the privacy obligations of survivors and other legal processes.
Miller said he would “never exclude” the possibility of legal action from third parties over the sharing of documents, but said it was a risk Canada would take and “not ask survivors to bear.”
Miller also pointed out that other organizations, like the Roman Catholic’s religious institute the Sisters of St. Anne, had committed to work in partnership with the centre to review and release additional records they had in their possession.
As for work with the provinces, Miller noted that both Ontario and British Columbia had recently “offered documents.”
“Those provincial records are ones that are very, very important. I have not heard from any province any reluctance to do so,” said Miller.
He added that the federal government would continue working with the provinces in supporting searches being carried out on and around residential school sites and providing mental health supports for survivors.
Scott said with the influx of these new records, the centre would require additional funding and she held Miller to his government’s 2021 election promise of funding for a new building and more operational dollars.
While Miller didn’t offer any monetary figures, he said his government would honour their election commitment.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.