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Ottawa earmarks more cash for National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

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It seemed like a positive omen: eagles, which are considered sacred in Indigenous culture, circled around the future site of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on Wednesday.

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It seemed like a positive omen: eagles, which are considered sacred in Indigenous culture, circled around the future site of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on Wednesday.

Marc Miller, the federal minister for Crown-Indigenous relations, had just announced his government would give $88.5-million towards a new learning facility on residential schools, and other initiatives.

“This tells me that the government knows there is decades of work to do,” said Stephanie Scott, the centre’s executive director.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) held a ground breaking event at the site of the future NCTR building on the northeast corner of the University of Manitoba Tuesday. Murray Sinclair, Commissioner of the TRC, places tobacco into the ceremonial fire at event.

The organization, which preserves residential school records and provides educational resources, has been at the University of Manitoba for seven years.

Since the discovery of potential unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., in 2021, the centre’s workload has quadrupled, Scott said.

“We had survivors reaching out daily to us, consistently, and then it became communities,” she said.

More than four million records have been transferred to the centre — and they keep coming in, from governments and churches.

“We were told another 10 million records (could be incoming),” Scott said, adding the federal government is sending many of them.

The centre has more than 25 agreements to distribute records to communities, she said.

The centre now employs 50 people. Its office can fit “about 20 people comfortably,” and employees are scattered across the university campus.

Some artifacts and records must be stored off-site due to the lack of space, said Terry Duguid, Liberal MP for Winnipeg South.

“I remember getting a royal tour and going into the boardroom and being hardly able to turn around,” Duguid said Wednesday.

Both he and Scott stood on the roughly two acres given to the centre by the University of Manitoba, in the northwest corner of the Pembina Highway campus.

Construction likely won’t begin for two to three years, Scott said. First, the organization plans to visit Indigenous groups across Canada for input on the new centre, which will be open to the public.

The University of Manitoba will help raise the additional $30 to $40 million needed for the building, Scott said.

“We’re going grand,” she said.

As much as $60 million of the federal government’s $88.5 million will be used to build the facility, Miller said.

The federal government had reserved $60 million for the new building in its 2022 budget. Miller announced another $28.5 million Wednesday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Murray Sinclair and Grand Chief Cathy Merrick at the ground breaking of the future NCTR building on the northeast corner of the University of Manitoba Tuesday.

Some of the money will pay for the effort to identify unmarked graves, disclose residential school records, run the national residential school student death register and the national cemetery register. It will be used for the advisory committee on missing children and unmarked burials.

“It is distasteful to have Canada always be the arbiter of the information of the truth and what gets provided and what doesn’t get provided,” Miller said. “(This is) a bit of a pivotal point in the relationship.”

Scott travelled across Canada and spoke to survivors when she was involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“No matter where I was… they said time and time again that they wanted their oral histories protected, saved well into the future so people could understand what happened to them,” Scott said.

She said that by continuing to talk about residential schools, and having the centre, it can help to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

“There are still a lot of deniers out there,” said Murray Sinclair, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “We have to understand that those deniers will gain a foothold if we allow the memory to fade.”

He wants a building that is “appealing to survivors” — one that’s more circular than square, with natural features such as wood and plants.

“(There’s) a lot of steps that need to be taken, and this is one of the big steps that is being taken on behalf of the government,” said Cathy Merrick, newly elected chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, during the news conference.

Levinia Brown, a residential school survivor, attended the announcement.

“Residential school… brought a lot of pain,” she said, adding she was punished for speaking her language. “Today, 2022, we move forward.”

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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Updated on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 5:05 PM CST: Typo in headline fixed

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