Province will share death records of residential school students with truth, reconciliation centre


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The provincial government has committed to sharing the death records of Indigenous children who attended residential schools in Manitoba with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

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The provincial government has committed to sharing the death records of Indigenous children who attended residential schools in Manitoba with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

“It’s a historic day today for our people, to give hope for our people who’ve been seeking closure for their ancestors and for themselves and for our children, as well,” Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said at a ceremony at the Manitoba legislature Monday.

“It is through these records that survivors and families can uncover more truths about their relatives and communities,” Merrick said at the event attended by James Teitsma, the minister responsible for the Vital Statistics branch that will share the death records with the Winnipeg-based national centre.

The agreement allows the NCTR to collect, use and disclose the records for specified purposes including:

• Establishing a missing children register to assist Indigenous communities and family members to identify, commemorate and learn more about missing loved ones.

• Assisting in providing insight into burial locations, causes of death and rates of death of children who died in the residential school system.

• Maintaining Indigenous community narratives and participating in Indigenous-led ceremonies.

• Assisting in the development of commemorative markers or other commemoration efforts as determined by Indigenous communities.

• Enabling research.

The agreement fulfils one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action that are guiding the work of government, said Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke, who attended the ceremony. Last year, the province changed the Vital Statistics Act Act to expand the parameters of name registration to include a wider range of characters and names in recognition of traditional Indigenous, and other cultures and languages.

Merrick said Indigenous names of children were westernized at Indian Residential Schools, and that’s made it difficult for people to trace their connection back to their families and their communities.

“Many unanswered questions can be answered when we work together,” Grand Chief Garrison Settee said. “Without truth you cannot find true reconciliation.”

Settee said the ability to access information about children who died in residential schools and sanatoriums is “long overdue.”

Although the province sharing death records will provide more information, getting Indian Residential School records remains a challenge, said Raymond Frogner, head of archives at the NCTR.

“It’s a jigsaw puzzle,” he said, explaining that record-keeping was inconsistent, with the archives trying to piece together information from more than 150 depositories including federal and provincial governments, churches and private records kept by administrators and teachers.

Manitoba follows B.C. and Ontario in signing agreements to turn over death records to the centre. Deals are still in the works with Saskatchewan, Quebec and the Northwest Territories, Frogner said.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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