TRC Sharing Truth: Creating a National Research Centre on Residential Schools Conference,March 1-3, 2011, Vancouver, British Columbia – A SummaryReport by Eric J. Large, SaddleLake Cree Nation
On March 1, 2011Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) provided the Welcome and Overview. He said there were 500 registrants of the conference and 160 survivors registered. He mentioned the intent of Indian residential schools as an assimilation process, Christianization, and that it was both successful and largely unsuccessful. It was successful in that language and culture was taken away. It was unsuccessful it that assimilation did not succeed. Significant
abuses occurred with lawsuits filed in the 1990s. The Supreme Court of Canada found that there was government and Church liability. A class action settlement agreement was court created with compensation for residential school former students and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the mandate of the TRC was the creation of a National Research Centre. Justice Sinclair mentioned that speakers from 16 countries would relate reconciliation processes worldwide in the areas of document collection, archiving, and protection of records. He added that the legacy of Indian Residential Schools (IRS) and much about IRS was hidden from both Canadian and Aboriginal people. The T&RC’s task is to ensure that the National Research Centre will contribute to a permanent memory of IRS. Justice Murray said that T&RC’s mandate “calls on us to gather documents on Indian Residential Schools and placed in the National Research Centre, that statements also be placed in the National Research Centre, and that access to history is made available”.
Brad Morse, Dean of Law, University of Waikato Te Piringa, New Zealand and University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law gave a power point overview of the TRC Mandate. He said the T&RC mandate is in Schedule N of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement [IRSSA] that gives the T&RC a 5-year term with 3 commissioners and staff; regional liaisons; and an Indian Residential School Survivor Committee of 10 members. Morse briefly outlined the tasks of the T&RC as:
- facilitate the gathering of the “truth” through individual statement taking/truth sharing by former students, their families, communities, and from those involved in the residential former schools
- support the holding of 7 national events and community events to contribute to truth, healing, and reconciliation
- foster public education about what happened in the Indian residential schools and legacy
- aid in the development of regional, community, and national commemoration initiatives
- encourage reconciliation
- create as comprehensive an historical record as possible.
Morse cited article 1(e) of Schedule N of the IRSSA that creates the NRC as “records shall be preserved and made accessible to the public for future study and use”. In addition, article (3(d)) that authorized the T&RC “must establish a research centre and ensure preservation of its archives”. Morse said the NRC would continue to grow after the T&RC is closing and final report and that the NRC will be open to receive statements with no time limitation, and from the Independent Process Payment (IAP), litigation, and dispute resolution processes. The purpose of the NRC is to ensure that “all materials are created or received with a purpose and tradition in keeping with the objectives and intent of the Commission’s work”. He said the NRC must reflect the openness of the T&RC work to move forward. He continued that the NRC’s collections “must be accessible to former students, their families and communities, the general public, researchers, and educators who wish to include this historical material in curricula”. With regard to subjection to privacy legislation, Morse asked, “how to maximize access?” He continued saying that preservation of documents require a place for repository but does not mean only one place for access. There must be consideration for modern tech strategies, regional access, and mobile IRS displays. The management of the NRC would also consider: a stand alone centre, perhaps be a branch of Library and Archives of Canada (LAC) with a oversight board, linking with the LAC and Canadian Museum of Civilization Canada with participation with survivors and Aboriginal organizations, linking with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation or the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, and links with others ensuring permanency all established out of the T&RC’s budget (article 12). In concluding, Morse said there are questions regarding scope of the T&RC that need clarifying. Some of these questions need elaboration such as the T&RC is not a federal commission like the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People (RCAP) or all others. T&RC’s source is the IRSSA that is an out of court settlement binding all parties to it and subject to judicial scrutiny. Morse ended, “the commissioners carry the yearning for true recognition of the horrendous harms done, the desire for healing of generations, hope for reconciliation and renewal shared by millions in Canada and the goal to always remember that it never, ever happens again”.
Trudy Huskamp Peterson, author of Final Acts: A Guide to Preserving the Records of Truth Commission, USA spoke of challenges and considerations that need review. Among these: what happens to records after a Commission ends; what principles are used to evaluate to evaluate the role of human rights. Questions need to be asked relate to: the temporary nature of truth commissions established to inquire into and report on a path of abuses committed by a previous representative regime and usually during and immediately after a regime change. Peterson said commissions that were completed by early 2006 werenine in Central and South America; six in Africa; and four in Asia. She said there are two record types. The first is physical records that includes paper, electronic, audio-visual, and some objects. The second is functional which has the aspects of function (administration), program (decision- making, final report, and statements), and investigation. Sources of information include government records, records of non-government organizations, commercial and non-commercial records, and records of international and inter-government organizations. Custody of commission records needs to be consideration as well as access to the records. Will there be records laws controlling access or would there be special interventions? Peterson mentioned the UN principles drafted by Louis Joinet, and adopted in 1997, against impunity of perpetrators. Diane Orentlicher updated these principles in 2005. The Joinet principles are based on the right to know (by the person and collective) and the duty to remember (responsibility of the State). The State role is to “ensure the preservation of and access to archives covering violations of human rights and humanitarian law”. Peterson said inter-archival initiatives must consider descriptive standards, code of ethics, and draft principles of access to records. These initiatives must also provide for the selection of a successor repository and consider the legal aspects such as the application of existing law, confidentiality and access issues. There must also be political consideration. Is there reputation and reliability of the custodial institution resulting in access and where records should be deposited inside or outside of the government. Archival work is based on the nature of the records, existing capacity of archives, financial and secure situation, and experience with public and access services. Is the archival work sensitive to the research needs of the communities? Peterson concluded that archivists, as duty bearers for human rights, appreciate, secure, preserve, describe, provide access, and promote use of the archival records.
Documenting and Memorializing Human Rights Abuses in Africa
Doudou Diene, Chair of the Board of the International Coalition of Sites and Programs of Conscience, former UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Senegal reported that children have been taken and are being abducted recently in Chad when 100 children were taken to Europe. He said central to truth and reconciliation is the issue of memory, which is one dimension of justice. Memory as facts raised the question whether the National Research Centre is going to focus only on facts. What of the silence and invisibility of the victims and survivors? There is also silence in the current history books. Crimes can be document in written form or in the oral traditions, in the memory of the victim. Memory is carried in cultural expression, paintings, dance, etc. that provide information on the tragedy you have lived. The impact of silence occurs when historians have manipulated what happened as in Indian residential schools. Silence is the focus today, on what is currently happening, not what happened. We are wondering what to do with memory, of the facts and trying to provide historical truth. There is the ethical context in which violence happened and to try to investigate the human values that were the basis at the core of the Indian residential schools.What are the values today? While factual memory is important, living memory is absolutely important. Mr. Diene proposed three ideas. One is investigation of the specific situation of victims and the universality of the practices of victimization. The second is to investigate human values. The third is to look at the impact on the present day by linking facts, living memory, and the human values of today.
Freddy Mutanguha, Executive Director, South African History Archives, South Africa gave his presentation in French. One important development he related was the establishment of the Kigali Memorial Centre.
Catherine Kennedy, Executive Director, South African History Archives, South Africa talked about independent archives, not national archives. She said the South African government between 1948 and 1994 imposed apartheid. The South Africa Truth Commission was established in 1995 to record the memory of the past, to attain justice, and to promote national healing. Over 22,000 victims made statements and more than 7,000 perpetrators applied for amnesty. There are unfinished reparations. The final version of the Truth Commission report is in German. The materials produced uncovered human rights violations and covered part of the transition process. There are gaps and unrepresented histories. The commission had a narrow scope of mandate. There was no consideration of violations that occurred prior to 1960. There are also no records taken of abuses in other countries where apartheid affected. In a form of revisionism, all three South African parties challenged the findings of the Truth Commission report. There was loss of records through theft. There was a need to guard against purging of memory. Access or lack of access to records needed consideration. Kennedy briefly outlined the South African History Archives’ mandate and some of the challenges it face such as privacy concern.
Tom Adami, Chief, Archives and Records Management, United Nations Mission, Sudan gave a power point presentation called “Setting the Scene”. He began with the idea of intersecting of archives with the process of reconciliation and how process management can inform decisions about Indian residential schools. He said today, March 2011, inequality and abuse of rights continues. Technology also is very critical. It does not follow that accessibility will occur. There is also accessibility of records by people and illiteracy. Adami’s power point photos show images drawn by children affected by conflict in Chad in 2009. He spoke on the role of archives in justice and in the accountability of legal bodies. He said forgiveness is an individual concept, of individual human beings that is an important part of reconciliation. Technology used in accessing information is necessary but is expensive. Adami said knowledge management could have a techno central approach; an ecological approach with people and the environment; and a wholistic approach with the creation of interface of all the stakeholders. He asked, “Is there a best practice model for a T&RC?” He concluded, “Maintaining archives is ensuring that human rights are preserved”.
Questions and comments from the audience and previous presenters focused on memory and memorials, memoria, and memorialization. Doudou Diene said that knowledge, facts, ethics, values have a role in personal and collective transformation.
Stephen Smith, Executive Director, Shoah Foundation, USAwas the lunch keynote speaker. His message is an archives is an archives of conscience not just an archives of collections.
Documenting and Memorializing the Holocaust
Joanne Rudof, Archivist, Fortunoff Foundation, Yale University, USA said the New Haven, CT Area Survivors began producing video tape documentaries in May 1979 of one hour each of four survivors of the holocaust and in June of 1979 a Holocaust Survivors Firm Project began at Yale University with professors and staff and later included other States. The project expanded and systematized. Recordings are called testimonies. There is team approach, attentive listening by two listeners, and emotional support. Survivors introduce themselves rather than being prompted or made script ready before. Listeners and interviewers are prepared. The background, history, geography related to concentration and displaced persons camps are considered. Survivors and witness state their experience at their own pace. Rudof said this process is a painful recollection not for healing. The pain triggers are spontaneous. She concluded that many pieces are still missing after 65 years since the holocaust. Links are at or at .
Dr. Susanne Urban, Head of Historical Research, International Tracing Service (ITS), Germany began her power point of the mission statement of ITS which is to serve victims. She described the working relationship of the UNRRA, IRO, and ITS. ITS is responsible for preserving documents of the fate of the victims/survivors of the holocaust and the Nazi persecutionand supports historical research. The website is .
Kim Simon, Managing Director, USC Shoah Foundation Institute, University of Southern California, USApresented “For Visual History and Education”. She stresses the importance of the duty of care, concern over intellectual property, privacy, context, and potential misuse. She also expressed the need to widen access to records to benefit teaching, research, learning, and policymaking. She mentioned the work of “I Witness” educational project whose focus is with Holocaust and genocide survivors and witness video testimonies be made available on-line. The link is .
Archiving for Advocacy
Kate Doyle, Senior Analyst, National Security Archive (NSA), George Washington University, USA, stated that NSAis a non-government organization founded in 1985 by activists for fighting for peoples’ right to know in the US and worldwide. It uses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain declassified government and agency documents. She said one benefit of Canada’s T&RC is the transfer of its skills of collecting, documenting, and archiving. The link is .
Grace Lile, Director of Operations and Archives, WITNESS, New York, USA said her organization is involved in human rights, advocacy, and activism. It is also involved in training and collaborating in the recording in video documentaries human rights advocacy. It holds 5,000 hours of video developed since 1992 of events or abuses. The link is .
Marijana Toma, of the Coalition for RECOM [Regional Commission] told of the real war in Croatia and Serbia where there was ethnic cleansing. In Serbia, there was conflict between Kosovan Serbs and Kosovan Albanians. This conflict had wide spread atrocities. RECOM found about 40,000 missing persons and still looking for about 60,000 missing persons. War crimes were committed with many victims. There was denial, minimization, or justification for the crimes. Research was done and documents collected for the prosecution of war criminals and for raising indictments. One of the challenges faced by the Human Law Centre (HLC) in Serbia was the government and a hostile public. Toma said the HLC conducts credible documentation, which it also preserves. This documentation includes witness statements collected since 1992. She concluded that there is desire for a regional T&RC supported by a coalition of the European Union, the president of Serbia and one other support body.
Ramon Alberch, Director, School of Archivists and Document Administration, Autonomous University of Barcelona; former President, Archivists without Borders, Spain reported that his organization is concerned with original and reliable documentation, fighting impunity and collective amnesia, ensuring access to information, establishing resolution, protecting human rights, and restoring confiscated assets. ASF (Archiveros sin Fronteres) [Archivists without Borders] is involved in the protection and restoration of archives in countries/dictatorships. It works in training and working with families of the disappeared, for example missing children. Alberch highlighted the construction of the Democratic Memorial of Catalonia has a homage to “A Future for the Past”. He said there was collective amnesia for the period 1976 to 1990 when silence was a pact. Another challenge is political policy and the need for a review of the past is advisable. He said collective amnesia is not conducive to reconciliation. He said the Law of Democracy Memorial established by the Parliament of Catalonia in 2007 has main goals of promoting democratic memory, preserving memory as a civil right, identifying people who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War and during the Franco regime, attention for former prisoners, tributes, conferences, and an information and documentation centre.