Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/6/2015 (2212 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA - As residential school survivors prepare for the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report today, a Winnipeg archive is getting ready for what comes next.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba is preparing to open this fall after the bulk of the TRC’s records are transferred over. That includes 7,000 survivor statements, roughly 8,000 hours of video footage, perhaps five million government and church records and 30,000 photos. Boxes of government records show up daily at the TRC’s office and will be given to the centre when the TRC winds down.
Many of those documents present privacy challenges. And, at some point, the centre will need bigger digs, so a multi-million-dollar building is planned eventually for the U of M’s new lands on the old Southwood golf course. And centre director Ry Moran says the archive will likely spark more revelations about residential schools as researchers begin combing through documents that have been secret for generations.
"For sure there’s going to be amazing stuff we haven’t read yet" said Moran. "I know we’re sitting on an incredibly powerful collection."
In Ottawa Monday, as part of the TRC’s final events, survivors spent another day telling their stories, some publicly in sharing circles, other’s privately to TRC commissioners. For the last five years, the TRC, chaired by Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair, has gathered stories and battled for documents in an effort to uncover the truth about residential schools. The TRC has compiled its findings into a six-volume, 1,200-page report. A 300-page executive summary of that report is being made public today, with the report to follow in the fall.
As hundreds of survivors and their families converged Monday on Ottawa’s Delta hotel to share their stories, talk turned to reconciliation now that the truth of residential schools has begun to emerge.
Confronting the abuse that was rampant in the schools is a key part of healing, said Theodore "Ted" Fontaine, a residential school survivor and former chief of Sagkeeng First Nation.
Fontaine, now 73, was just five years old when he was sent to residential school. He spent 10 years at the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School and two more at the Assiniboia Indian Residential School in Winnipeg. A few years ago, he was given the phone number for the clergyman who abused him all those years ago, and was told there was only an hour every day when the man wasn’t available.
"For a whole year I phoned him within that time frame so he wouldn’t answer," Fontaine said.
Finally after a year, he got up the courage to make the call at another time of the day and the man answered. His opening line was stark.
"You have to forgive me," Fontaine says he told the man. "I’ve had bad feelings about you. I’ve hated you and I’ve wanted to kill you."
Fontaine says the man did not respond the way Fontaine hoped.
"My perpetrator completely rejected the idea that he had abused me," said Fontaine.
But the clergyman also thanked Fontaine for not naming him in his book, Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Residential Schools. That suggested to Fontaine that, somewhere within him, the clergyman knew exactly what he did.
Fontaine said the next step in his healing journey is to sit across the table from his abuser.
"My next step in my path, not to forgiveness but to reconciliation, is just him and I," he said. "I believe it’s going to happen this year."
Also Monday, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt played defence during question period as opposition parties demanded the government commit to honouring the TRC recommendations, which will be released today.
Valcourt said there is no place in Canada for the attitudes that led to residential schools to prevail, but would not say whether the government will implement any of the recommendations.
"We look forward to receiving a full report to be able to fully understand and respond to the recommendations," he said.
Meanwhile, the new National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the U of M has begun discussions with the federal government about long-term funding, perhaps in the form of an endowment that allows the centre to have a reliable cash flow for decades as it cares for the huge residential schools archive. Now, the U of M foots most of the bill for the centre, a bill that will increase as millions of documents are turned over later this year.
When the centre opens in the fall, a first round of records, documents already technically public but tricky to find, will likely be made easily accessible. That includes administrative records, and even some documents on death investigations. Then Moran is also hoping quickly to make public the hearing recordings and transcripts, along with archive photos.
Trickier are statements from survivors, even those involving survivors who agreed to allow their statements to be made public. In some cases, statements include information about other people, so privacy rights have to be carefully considered, case by case.
"Daylighting" them all could take years, said Moran.
The centre is also working on public education programs to help teachers, and a national conference on reconciliation planned for 2016.