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Schools plan bid for commission's research centre

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The University of Manitoba will make a bid for a national research centre the Truth and Reconciliation Commission must establish before it wraps up its work.

The commission is gathering a permanent record of the sad chapter in Canadian history that revolves around residential schools and the research centre will serve as a public custodian of the stories of abuse.

"The University of Manitoba will be bidding on it. We've told the TRC and it's not a secret," said Karen Busby, the director of the U of M's centre on human rights research.

What's also about to no longer be a secret is the U of M will have plenty of rivals in the bidding war.

TRC chairman Justice Murray Sinclair said he's heard expressions of interest from universities coast to coast in Canada looking to land what will clearly be an academic jewel.

One of those expressions of interest will likely also come from the U of M's crosstown rival.

"The U of W is very interested and so representatives will be attending the national research forum in Vancouver," said Dan Hurley, the U of W's associate vice-president.

That forum, entitled Sharing Truth, Creating a National Research Centre on Residential Schools, will be held March 1-3.

While little is being said now on the shape of the coming research centre, there are a few things that are coming into view.

"The one thing I think it is safe to say is it would not do for us to house a national research centre on this question in a government entity because of the role of government in this whole process,'' Sinclair said.

"It has to be an entity independent from government and it has to have the capacity to meet the research centre's ultimate objective, which is to be a place for research.''

Bricks and mortar will take a back seat to the main topic of discussion at the forum.

"One of the reasons we're holding the forum is to invite people to speak to us about other truth commissions around the world and how they went about both to collect documents and to establish that memory and maintain it after the commission was over," Sinclair said.

Speakers at the upcoming forum include experts from countries that read like a who's who for truth and reconciliation commissions: New Zealand, El Salvador, Senegal, Rwanda, Sudan and South Africa.

Among the Canadian speakers are George Erasmus from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine and Stuart Murray, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights under construction in Winnipeg.

Legacy of failed policy


For more than a century, aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to residential schools far from their homes, for years at a time.

Set up in the 1870s, residential schools were federally funded and run mostly by churches as a way to assimilate aboriginal people. As a social policy, experts agree they failed.

Students were systematically stripped of their languages and cultures. Many were subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse from teachers and staff.

The impact of residential schools continues to play a role in family violence, crime and addiction rates that plague aboriginal people, particularly in Western Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a public apology for the abuse at residential schools from the floor of the House of Commons in 2008. The federal government paid $1.9 billion in compensation to survivors of the schools. In addition, Ottawa promised a truth and reconciliation commission would gather the stories from former students, staff, churches and government and set up a research centre to be the permanent record of the legacy of abuse.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 20, 2011 A5

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