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The interior of the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina.MARK TAYLOR/The Globe and Mail

The national police force’s role in the residential school system must be highlighted in the RCMP’s new museum, according to Canada’s Heritage Minister and the institution’s leaders.

The Regina-based RCMP Heritage Centre is announcing a new chief executive officer next Wednesday, and will soon embark on an in-depth consultation process to revamp its exhibits in order to tell both positive and negative stories of RCMP history. The centre is transitioning to a new national museum, and its current content doesn’t delve into some darker historical moments.

These changes come as the discovery of unmarked graves at the nearby Cowessess First Nation, and other locations, puts a renewed focus on the legacy of the residential school system, and highlights the need for this new national museum to address the RCMP’s role in forcing Indigenous children to attend residential schools.

“The museum dedicated to the history of the RCMP would have to tell the full story, and not from some glorified version,” Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “The issues of systemic racism, of Indigenous racism, of the residential school program, these are all elements that would need to be addressed.”

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Mr. Guilbeault added that the Ministry of Canadian Heritage will have oversight of the new institution.

“There’s no version of reality where a museum like that would happen without proper and thorough consultations and involvement in the design of the museum, not necessarily from a physical point of view, but in terms of exhibits,” he said.

The RCMP Heritage Centre is receiving $4.5 million over three years to transition into a new national museum, money that’s part of the $66-million allocated in April’s federal budget to Canada’s national museums.

Dan Toppings, the centre’s executive director, said the funding required them to do extensive consultations, and that the new museum will include both good and bad stories of RCMP history. He said they’ll soon be speaking with people all across Canada to gather feedback.

“I anticipate that bits and pieces of all of their stories will form part of the new RCMP Heritage Centre,” Mr. Toppings said. When it comes to content about the RCMP’s role in the residential school system, he said he would be “very surprised if that was not part of the story that’s told going forward.”

After the uncovering of 751 unmarked graves at Cowessess First Nation connected to the former Marieval Indian Residential School, the centre released a statement expressing grief and support for survivors and families affected by the related intergenerational trauma. Cowessess First Nation is about a two-hour drive from the RCMP Heritage Centre, and Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme sits on the centre’s board.

Kevin Doherty, chair of the board of directors, said they wanted to show respect for Mr. Delorme and his community. “There obviously is a role that the RCMP played in the history of the residential schools,” he said.

While the current exhibits have limited mentions of Indigenous communities, Mr. Doherty said the next iteration of the museum will include the history of the force’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. The announcement of their new CEO, he said, will begin their next stage of the consultation process.

Karine Duhamel, a historian and former curator for Indigenous content at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, said that consultations when developing such exhibits are essential, but that there must be action to follow.

“Meaningful engagement or consultation results in those who have been engaged seeing their feedback in the exhibition,” she said. “Non-meaningful consultation is about lip service and performative allyship, where you might ask someone for their opinion, but you really don’t have any intention of doing the thing.”

Dr. Duhamel, who is Anishinaabe-Métis, also said it’s important for content to bring Indigenous perspectives to the forefront, and to position such stories as a shared history alongside other content.

“Not deciding what stories we’re going to tell about Indigenous people, but rather working with Indigenous Peoples to determine what stories should be told,” she added.

Dr. Duhamel said she sees a great opportunity in the new museum to help create better relationships with Indigenous communities, and to advance reconciliation for the RCMP, and police in general.

“Going forward, as they develop content, if they do so in true partnership and true collaboration, then the truth is what will emerge,” she said.

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