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U of M, truth commission sign deal for research centre

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A woman dabs tears while commission chairman Murray Sinclair signs documents at the U of M Friday.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

A woman dabs tears while commission chairman Murray Sinclair signs documents at the U of M Friday.

CANADA'S Truth and Reconciliation Commission has three million documents dealing with the disastrous legacy of Indian residential schools, and five million more are on the way.

What the commission doesn't have is money to build a promised national residential schools research archive.

In a long ceremony packed with politicians and aboriginal dignitaries Friday, the commission and the University of Manitoba signed an agreement to set up the national research centre, which will see the university take on the massive job of reviewing, organizing and digitizing millions of residential school records. That includes government and church documents, 6,000 oral histories taken from residential school survivors and their families, artifacts and photos.

Most of the records are still held by Library and Archives Canada. Only now, after a court battle, are they being prepared to be given to the commission and the university.

So far, there is no secure source of funding for a startup research centre, expected to be housed in existing space on campus. The U of M has committed space and funding for three positions, but additional funding is needed. Organizers hope it can come from the parties to the residential schools court settlement, including the federal government and Canada's largest churches. They hope funding can be secured by the time the commission winds up in a year.

There is also no long-term funding for a stand-alone residential schools research centre, the ultimate goal. University staff is exploring the possibility of building on the site of the former Southwood golf course, which the university owns and plans to redevelop. A public fundraising campaign may be launched as part of the university's capital building plans, and it could be five to 10 years before the centre opens.

The creation of a research centre and the preservation of the residential schools archive was originally meant to be funded by the commission's $63-million budget. But commission chairman Murray Sinclair has said funding is not adequate to meet the commission's five-year mandate, let alone process records and open a research centre.

Still, Friday's event marked a milestone in the work for a lasting record of residential schools, where aboriginal children suffered abuse, lost their language and identity, became estranged from their parents and reserves and then passed the emotional damage onto later generations.

"What we have begun to no longer deny, we will never forget," commissioner Marie Wilson told the gathering Friday. "Our country will never be able to say this never happened."

The records will help researchers delve deeper into the conditions at specific schools, illuminate how churches and government dealt with allegations of abuse and help count of how many children died in residential schools and where they are buried. So far, the TRC more than 4,000 children have been counted.

"Even for those who never made it home from school, the evidence is there, that they might be remembered," said elder and survivor Garry Robson, whose late brother also went to a residential school and led a troubled life. "I saw him run all his life, trying to get away from the memory, and he was never able to shake it."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 A8

History

Updated on Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 2:58 PM CDT: Fixed cutlines.

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