The federal government and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation signed an agreement on Thursday that lays out how Canada will hand over historical documents related to residential schools.
NCTR executive director Stephanie Scott said the new memorandum of agreement between Ottawa and the NCTR will lead to the transfer of more records on residential schools to the centre and is an important step on the journey of reconciliation.
“It is a step that is, frankly, long overdue,” she said.
Garnet Angeconeb, a survivor of the Pelican Indian Residential School, said the records that will be given to the centre will be a “way to get at the truth” and to tell the stories of the students who attended the institutions.
“I thank you for sharing those records, not just for survivors, not just for the Indigenous community, but also, all of Canada,” he said. “This is about Canadians talking to Canadians and acknowledging and validating our shared history.”
In December, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller announced that Ottawa would hand over thousands of previously undisclosed residential school documents to the NCTR, and that the federal government believed hanging on to them would be a breach of its “moral duty” to the survivors.
The federal government said on Thursday that the transfer of documents will take place according to a schedule that works for the NCTR.
The centre, based in Winnipeg, holds the country’s largest collection of residential school materials and works to educate Canadians about how First Nations, Inuit and Métis students were forced to attend the government-funded, church-run institutions, where widespread abuse occurred.
Ms. Scott said on Thursday that giving the records to the centre is a necessary part of acknowledging historical wrong.
“We must understand the shameful parts of Canada’s past in the spirit of reconciliation,” she said. “Today marks an important moment in our quest to find all the records.”
Mr. Miller said the federal government is also committed to an internal review of all documents held by his department to identify other possible records that can be shared while respecting privacy obligations to survivors and other legal processes.
He said the memorandum of agreement was required to ensure that documents could be delivered safely and securely.
“Families need this information,” he said. “They want to know, with certainty, the relevant records have been released and they have a right to that information. They have a right to know where their loved ones were taken.”
Ms. Scott said the NCTR has been in negotiations with Mr. Miller’s department on the need for additional funding as the centre receives an influx of records. She said it is imperative that it has enough staff to handle requests for access to the documents from people trying to trace children who did not return from the schools. She said she hoped information on this funding will be in the federal budget.
Mr. Miller noted that the Liberals promised during the last election campaign to increase funding for the centre, and said the government intends to follow through on it, He added that the resources for the NCTR are insufficient, as is the building in which it is housed.
The federal government has faced increased pressure to hand over documents since several First Nations announced in 2021 that they had located unmarked graves near the sites of the former residential schools.
On Oct. 19, the centre for truth and reconciliation released a strongly worded statement after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government had “handed all records on residential schools” over to the NCTR. The centre noted that it hadn’t received information on some schools, and that its information on others was incomplete.
“If the Prime Minister is telling all Canadians and Indigenous Peoples that the NCTR holds all records, it is time for that to be true,” the centre said at the time.
Gary Vidal, the Conservative critic for Crown-Indigenous Relations, called Thursday’s announcement overdue and said Indigenous peoples have been waiting for the Liberal government to deliver on its promises related to reconciliation.
Lori Idlout, the NDP critic for Crown-Indigenous Relations, said the federal government has a moral obligation to release all documents related to residential schools to “provide the whole truth of what took place in these institutions of genocide.”
“While we recognize that today’s memorandum of agreement is an historic undertaking and a significant step forward, the federal government should have taken this action much, much earlier,” she said, adding that survivors have waited years for these documents.
The number for the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is 1-866-925-4419. British Columbia has a First Nations and Indigenous Crisis Line offered through the KUU-US Crisis Line Society, toll-free at 1-800-588-8717.
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