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U of M picked for national research site

To keep residential school papers

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OTTAWA -- The University of Manitoba is set to become the designated site for a national research centre on residential schools.

The creation of the centre is one of the main goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aims to document the history of the schools in a bid to find closure and peace for survivors and their families.

Commission chairman Murray Sinclair would not confirm the U of M will be the winning bidder but indicated an announcement is close.

"We have been in discussions with a potential host for the national research centre and we're relatively close," he said Tuesday.

U of M director of communications John Danakas acknowledged Friday those discussions are with the U of M and said he hopes an agreement will be signed "within a month or two."

"It is great (the commission) selected the University of Manitoba to pursue further discussions with and those discussions are going very well."

The U of M was one of several schools and organizations that expressed interest in hosting the site, including the University of Toronto and Athabasca University in Alberta.

It's unclear when the commission will be prepared to hand over documents to the U of M to create the centre.

The auditor general released an audit this week critical of the federal government and the commission for lacking the proper planning and decision-making to assemble the documents needed to create a national research centre.

The commission has 15 months left in its mandate to amass the documents, which will be handed over to the new research centre, and Sinclair said that likely isn't enough time.

Choosing the research centre site was also rife with politics, as some First Nations leaders balked at the idea that a non-First Nations organization would be given control of the material.

A critical component to the U of M's successful bid is a partnership with groups such as the National Association of Friendship Centres and the Legacy of Hope Foundation. The U of M deal includes agreements with the University of British Columbia, Lakehead University and the University of Winnipeg for satellite sites to make the records more accessible to survivors and their families.

The vast majority of the records will be in digital format, either scans of original documents held in the National Archives of Canada, or videos and presentations from survivors who tell their stories to the commission.

The U of M has estimated it will cost at least $1 million a year to run the centre. It's negotiating with Ottawa and approaching potential donors. At least half that cost is associated with the need for high-capacity computer servers for the volumes of digital records.

The U of M intends to initially host the site in the main library and in the Education Building, but is looking at a potential permanent site in an expansion of the Migizii Agamik -- Bald Eagle Lodge.

In its vision for the research centre, the U of M hopes to be able to use it to help educate and find jobs for aboriginal archivists, provide space for visitors to view the documents and host indoor and outdoor ceremonies.

An estimated 150,000 aboriginal and Métis children were taken from their families and forced into residential schools. They were forbidden from speaking their languages, practising their culture or learning from their parents. The schools were run by churches on behalf of the federal government and have been blamed for contributing to many of the social issues, including substance abuse and high rates of violence that First Nations face today. Many students reported physical, psychological and sexual abuse while in the schools.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 A3

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