While the Pope issued a formal apology to residential school survivors, for many it is just the first step. The next comes with meaningful action which includes releasing all records related to the facilities.
Children were taken away from their families, their language and their culture when they were taken to residential schools but official documentation as to what happened inside those schools is incomplete.
“We need to … find documents … stolen artifacts and resources that are being held overseas and also in archives in Canada,” University of Manitoba Indigenous Studies professor, Niigaan Sinclair said.
“(To) find out the full story of the Catholic involvement in residential schools, including the perpetrators, which are still alive.”
Many of those documents are still held by the Catholic Church, he says, adding the Pope has yet to commit to releasing them.
“There are many documents that are being withheld that will tell the story of who are in those graves at residential school sites, who ran those schools, how are those schools run,” Sinclair said.
“In fact, why is it that so much death happened at the schools? We still don’t know the full story.”
As well as releasing documents, Sinclair is calling on the Catholic Church to issue compensation to survivors and return land that was used for residential schools throughout Canada.
Ultimately Sinclair says without action, the Pope’s apology means nothing.
“Think of an abusive relationship, is an abusive relationship rectified because somebody says sorry, or do they stop the abuse?”
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) has been collecting and archiving data for years.
It has more than five million documents and 6,000 witness statements archived so far but is looking for even more official records from governments and the Catholic Church.
“The importance of records for residential schools is that it supplies the context and historical context for the experiences of the children in many of these cases,” NCTR head of archives Raymond Frogner said.
Frogner said Services Ontario recently transferred over all of the vital stats records they held that documented the loss of children at residential schools.
British Columbia and Alberta have done the same and Frogner said they are at the final stages of having Manitoba do it as well.
“The agreement will be that we will provide them a list of names that we … have of children who were lost at residential schools in Manitoba and that they would respond with appropriate documentation from vital stats,” he said.
Saskatchewan has not provided any documents.
Frogner said the records provide important details about the lives of the children who attended the schools and making sure they are available to those communities is imperative.
“With the recapturing of these records and to share them and make them meaningfully available to communities is to revitalize those communities, to try and bring back as much as possible the cultures and identities of communities that this residential school program tried to erase,” he said.
The NCTR believes Canada has a moral obligation to survivors to pursue the truth. This includes providing support to survivors, as well as to those suffering from intergenerational trauma, in their search for answers and healing.
“Fundamentally what we really want to do is just have a transparent and accountable set of resources that we can provide to better understand the history and legacy of those schools,” Frogner said.
For some, answers lie within documents still held in Vatican City by the Catholic Church.
“In the context of the Vatican, it’s going to be very important to see what directions were provided by religious officials in Rome to religious missionaries here in Canada,” Ry Moran, Associate University Librarian of Reconciliation at the University of Victoria said.
“Who told what to whom at what time are very important questions and understanding that relationship remains very, very important.”
Moran said those records could unlock the gateway to make sure these terrible atrocities do not repeat themselves.
“We have to know what went wrong and who did what in order to ensure that occurs,” he said.
But more importantly for some, Moran said it could provide missing answers.
“Crushingly important questions that survivors have, such as what happened to my loved one, what happened to my parent, what happened to my community, what happened to my nation.”
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.
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