Canada’s Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller says Ottawa has reached an agreement with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) to hand over more records on residential schools that Ottawa had been holding back.
“We will continue to support the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as they move forward with the critical work of preserving the historical records of Residential Schools and their impact on Indigenous Peoples for future generations,” says Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
“We are committed to rebuilding trust and strengthening our relationships with Indigenous Peoples by taking steps like these to support Survivors, their families and communities in their efforts to heal, as well as work toward closure and accountability.”
The federal government says the agreement outlines how and when it will send the historical documents to the Winnipeg-based centre, will make them available to residential school survivors and work to preserve them.
Survivors and other Indigenous leaders have long called on the federal government to release remaining records that it had refused to fully disclose, citing legal reasons.
“Today’s agreement is another step along the path set out for us by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission six years ago,” says Stephanie Scott, executive director of the NCTR.
“Through these records, we hope to uncover more truth on behalf of Survivors, their families and their communities.”
The demands grew louder last year after several First Nations 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.
After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau falsely said that all records had been handed over, Miller announced last month the federal government was reviewing records in its possession to see what more it could release to help survivors.
He said at the time that it would begin by sending what are known as “school narratives,” which are reports written by the federal government outlining key events at individual institutions.
“This is very important in 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, as a country, because today, I often hear people talk about our collective and our shared history, and I think through this gesture today, we are on the road to sharing and acknowledging our shared history,” says Garnet Angeconeb, a school survivor from Sioux Lookout, Ont., who attended Pelican Residential School.
“And so in a way, I thank you for sharing those records, not just for survivors, not just for the Indigenous community, but also all of Canada because really, this is about Canadians talking to Canadians and acknowledging and validating our shared history.”
In November, the province of Ontario recently agreed to transfer 1,800 death records of Indigenous children to the NCTR. It took six years to reach the agreement.
The NCTR says the death records are essential to finding and identifying all the children who died due to the residential school system.
Scott has been with the NCTR since 2016, had only been in her new leadership position for a little over two months when 215 remains were located in unmarked graves on the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in May 2021.
“Each one of those records holds a little spirit,” Scott told Face to Face host Dennis Ward in a Nov. 30 interview.
She says millions of documents from churches, and governments have not been turned over.
Scott acknowledges some of the documents have been politicized.
“There’s a story there. There’s truth there. It’s harm done to children. It’s a travesty,” says Scott. “We all know the truth because survivors have been saying it for a long time. During the truth and reconciliation commission, they were finally validated and vindicated and when I think back to those sessions, you know how painful that was for some of them.
“We sat in those statement gathering activities and there was wailing and crying and people were passing out and dropping to the floor and vomiting. So for the deniers to say that wasn’t the truth. I totally disagree.”
Correction: The original story said that Garnet Angeconeb attended St. Anne’s residential school. Mr. Angeconeb is from Sioux Lookout and attended Pelican Residential School.
With files from APTN’s Face to Face with Dennis Ward and the Canadian Press