Guest post by Camille Callison, Indigenous Services Librarian and Shelley Sweeney, Head, University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections

On Thursday and Friday, May 1 and 2, 2014, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous legal and archival experts met to think about layers of access, decision-making structures, research agreements, and priorities in processing records of the Truth & Reconciliation archives that will be coming to the University in 2015. The two day meeting began with a prayer from Elder Harry Bone. Commissioner Murray Sinclair, attending the meeting, said that the records were to ensure that no one could ever say in the future that the Residential School experience never happened. The overriding principles for determining access and privacy will be openness and access but with caution and moderation to respect individual privacy. Commissioner Sinclair said that the records of the new National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation need to be treated as part of Canada’s national heritage.

Facilitators Camille Callison, Tahltan nation, Indigenous Services Librarian, and Karen Busby, from the Faculty of Law, led a lively – and at times moving – discussion. As the beginning of the process of rationalizing the issues around access and privacy, there were no conclusions. Some of the ideas that came out of the meeting however included the following: that these records are a voice for the Elders that they want heard into the future; “We’ve been conditioned to be silent.” Because if the Elders don’t share their voices, the memory won’t be alive. We have to keep reconciliation as the goal and ask ourselves in all cases of access and privacy, does this advance reconciliation and the human right to truth? We want to create a living archive in a virtual and physical healing space. We don’t want the records to be dead documents in a dead archives. It was pointed out that records relating to the Schools have been held in various archives for decades but the light hadn’t been shone on them. The Centre should not try to replicate the type of archival institutions that already exist. Some records are already publicly available in other church and government archives however and these will need to remain available.

Camille brought up her set of best practices for Indigenous Peoples and libraries, archives and other cultural repositories. These best practices facilitate access for originating communities, which is central to their continued participation and collaboration. This vision of best practices includes obligations to:

  • Protect and preserve Indigenous knowledge(s) in a variety of mediums for use by current and future generations in a respectful and sensitive manner;
  • Provide a welcoming environment and assistance for First Nations, Métis, non-status and Inuit people to access this knowledge;
  • Seek direction from communities on proper protocols regarding access and care of their culturally sensitive records;
  • Respect the First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultural concept of copyright with regard to Aboriginal history or cultural heritage, which is often located in but not limited to oral traditions, songs, dance, storytelling, anecdotes, place names, hereditary names and other forms of Indigenous knowledges;
  • Provide opportunities and access to training and employment regarding the protection and preservation of Indigenous knowledge materials for First Nations, Métis, Inuit and non-status people.

OCAP principles were also brought up by Karen. OCAP stands for Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP) and basically means that indigenous people will be able to make decisions about any research that will be done involving them: what research will be done, for what purpose information or data will be used, where the information will be physically stored and who will have access.

Almost all of the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are digital in nature. Therefore many of the public records (excluding statements designated as private) can be made accessible via the Internet. This means that the NRC’s website needs to be friendly and engaging. In all aspects of this new venture we will need to include our partners and to use new and Indigenous methodology and epistemologies to organize the archives.

And finally the meeting ended with a travelling prayer from Elder Harry Bone, which helped remind participants in this symposium of the importance of Survivors to our thinking.

Guest post by Nicole Courrier

Wisdom: one of the seven sacred teachings, and the teaching chosen to represent the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission National Event which took place in Edmonton March 27th-30th. Each national event was based on a sacred teaching, the others being respect, courage, love, truth, humility and honesty. But I couldn’t have chosen a better word to describe my overall experience at the TRC event. The wisdom I witnessed and received made the experience one I will never forget.

As a first year Archival Studies masters student I was asked to attend the event to work the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NRC) booth by University Archivist Shelley Sweeney, who I had been working for at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections. Joining us were Director of the NRC Ry Moran, Indigenous Services Librarian at the University of Manitoba Camille Callison and University of Manitoba student Kyra Wilson who represented the student voice on the NRC panel.

photoFrom left-right: Kyra Wilson, Shelley Sweeney, Ry Moran, Camille Callison, Nicole Courrier

It was an emotional event to say the least. The opening ceremony began with a Lakota Stoney drumming performance, and seeing the traditional outfits brought tears to my eyes as I was reminded that many of the people surrounding me were ripped from their beautiful culture at a young age.

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I viewed the event through the lens of a sister, daughter, history student, archivist and “young” Canadian. Returning to the sacred teaching of wisdom, I can say I was touched and enlightened within all of these various lenses. First, I was reminded to fully appreciate my family and the privileged childhood I was so fortunate to have. Family was really the center of the event. Survivors gave statements surrounded by their families, they spoke of the loss of family, apologized to family, and praised family members on their success. Sitting at the NRC booth I heard so many heartwarming stories of proud parents and grandparents of their children and/or grandchildren’s successful and happy lives. People approached the NRC booth so willing to share their genealogy and the long nomadic history of their ancestors, which I was fascinated with as a history student. Recently completing a history seminar in Aboriginal Rights, the experience allowed everything I had learnt to come full circle and to see firsthand the devastating outcomes of a long history of colonialism in Canada. As a student, the privilege of education was reinforced and more importantly I was reminded of other ways in which to learn. As a “young” Canadian, it is essential that we take it upon ourselves to become informed about the past, present and future of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. It is unacceptable to have any Canadian citizen be unaware of this dark chapter of Canadian history.

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As an Archival Studies student, I was extremely fortunate to have the chance to attend the final national event. It was so uplifting to hear people asking about where the church archives booths were located so they could look for themselves or their loved ones in the many large binders filled with copies of photographs from various Indian Residential Schools. Sitting at the NRC booth allowed me the chance to discuss with people about the NRC and the amazing mass of TRC records that will be transferred over, as well as the importance of archives as a center of national memory. I heard many people fear that the NRC would become “just an archive.” On the one hand, as an Archival Studies student it’s hard to hear people either unaware of what an archive is, or dismissive of its role in social justice. However, the fear of “just an archive” was reiterated in the NRC panel, where survivors and others hoped the NRC would be a space completely unique from a traditional archive. This I think is essential. That the NRC will reinforce the importance of Indigenous culture and custom, and I hope too that it in this aspect it will be more than “just an archive.” Justice Murray Sinclair stated at the NRC Panel, “it cannot be all things to all people.” With this said, I am confident the NRC will be a place where survivors and their families can heal, and that academics and the general public will use the NRC as a place to educate and inform and be educated and informed.

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I heard many stories. Many emotional, some laced with anger or bitterness, and others were told with humor or a happy ending. However, the most memorable story I heard at the event was a survivor that grabs a coffee at his local Tim Hortons and educates customers about Indian Residential Schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He shares his wisdom one timbit at a time. It doesn’t get much more Canadian than that.

Guest post by Shelley Sweeney

I am thrilled to bits to announce that Mr. Ry Moran has joined the University of Manitoba as the Director of the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Ry brings important experience to this portfolio; he was most recently the Director of Statement Gathering with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and was in this role since 2010.  This has given him complete familiarity with all the issues that need to be addressed to transfer all the records of the TRC to the University.  Before his position with the TRC he was the owner of YellowTilt Productions, delivering professional services in a variety of areas including Aboriginal language preservation, oral history, research, event planning, professional communications and event facilitation.  This stood him in good stead in his position at the TRC and is extremely important as he begins the consultation process with our many partners.


A bit more about Ry, he has a Bachelor of Arts, Political Science and History, with Distinction, University of Victoria.  He is a proud member of the Métis Nation and is fluent in both English and French languages, the last being important to make connections with our francophone colleagues, locally and across the country.

Ry will assume a lead role in liaising and coordinating with Aboriginal communities and Survivor organizations, governments, partners, archivists, external agencies and University departments to establish the Centre. He will also work closely with the Centre’s Governing and Survivor Circles that will be comprised of Survivors, partners and community members.

Here he is in his new digs.  Temporary of course!  He will soon be moving to what was known as Chancellor’s Hall which in fact used to be the old President’s Residence on campus.  This historic brick building overlooks the Red River, and is next to a beautiful, quiet grassy spot where ceremonies can take place.  This too will likely be an interim space until a purpose built building can be erected.


You can contact him at  He would like to hear from you, particularly if you have ideas or thoughts about the new centre.  As I’ve said before, the University of Manitoba can’t do this alone.  Everyone needs to pull together if we are to truly change things for the better and slowly erase the painful legacy of the residential schools.

Guest post by Greg Bak

The current website for the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (CTR) presents key information. This includes links to multiple videos of the June 21, 2013 signing ceremony and speeches, as well as to important documents such as the trust deed and the administrative agreement that were signed on that day.

That said, this website can and should be much better.

At the November 26, 2013 meeting of the University of Manitoba CTR Implementation Committee, I provided some examples of websites that we might learn from. I also described some directions in which the development of the website might go.

This post offers my speaking notes from that presentation. These are my opinions, intended to get the discussion going. The CTR Implementation Committee has now created a CTR website subcommittee that will be responsible for design and content of the site, going forward.

I welcome your comments and suggestions on the topic of how we might design and develop the CTR website. For example, I would love to see some examples of websites that you feel do a really good job of welcoming participation.

What should the CTR website be?

  • The website is our front door – and our door should be wide open and welcoming.
  • The website should communicate a limited set of high-level messages about the CTR. These messages should be communicated through text, images, video and dynamic content.
  • Our bid stressed the principles of participatory archiving (ensuring that the people who use the archive have a role in the description and management of the records) and co-curation (ensuring that our partners have a share in the curation of the archive). The website should demonstrate these concepts in obvious, practical ways.
  • The website will be the primary interface for large numbers of visitors to the CTR. Many people may not be interested in conducting research into Indian Residential Schools, but they may visit the CTR website in order to get a sense of the collection and the organization.
  • The website is a cost effective way to reach remote communities

Here are a few websites that I have selected to highlight some principles of web design that we might consider while revising the CTR website. There are lots of other examples out there, and I hope that you will take the time to share some of your favourites, either in the comments below or by sending me an email.

DC Cam (

This is an independent archive of the Cambodian genocide, originally run as a field office of Yale University’s Cambodian Genocide Program (see History on website).

A couple of aspects of this website that I would like to highlight:

  • Lots of images and snippets of people’s stories
  • See the pages on Focus, Purpose, Organization & Leadership à high-level statements written in clear, plain language
  • Clean design that highlights the core messages of the organization

Plateau People’s Web Portal (

This website provides access to cultural materials of Plateau peoples held by several non-tribal organizations. It is a working example of co-curation between non-tribal organizations and tribal representatives.

A couple of aspects of this website that I would like to highlight:

  • Offers a working example of a participatory, co-curatorial approach to managing Indigenous holdings.
  • “Tribal Paths” offer a quick way to get from the front page and into the collections. The use of photos makes these collections quite accessible.

Ara Irititja (

This is a fully digital Indigenous archive, run by and for the Anangu of Australia.

A couple of aspects of this website that I would like to highlight:

  • This is a community-run archive. You must be member of community to access the archive. This restrictive approach to access means that the digital archive serves as a hub for the cultural and research uses of the Anangu.
  • It is fully participatory for the defined community of the Anangu.
  • It includes culturally relevant warnings such as that on the front page cautioning users that they may view images of community members who have passed away.

University of Manitoba’s Centre for Human Rights Research (

A couple of aspects of this website that I would like to highlight:

  • Demonstrates what can be done with the stylistic framework (the “look and feel”) of the University of Manitoba web templates
  • The homepage is visually dynamic and gives a sense of what the organization is about
  • Includes dynamic content like the “Researcher of the Week”
  • Includes a prominent link to “Join Our Email List” thus letting people know immediately what they can do to be kept informed of CHRR activities.

What should our website do?

Here are a few ideas that I had about what our website should try to do. I look forward to seeing your comments and suggestions as well.

1. Engage with survivors and communities

  • It should be evident that the CTR wants participation from those affected by Indian Residential Schools
  • It should be clear how people can participate
  • There should be a section for documents sent out to consultation. This can itself serve as a hub for web-based consultation on CTR documents.

2. Establish who are the people working on the CTR.

  • Identify members of all of committees
  • Put faces to this project – some photos of meetings, etc.
  • Identify our partners, and have content from our partners!!!

3. Demonstrate transparency

  • Include all key documentation about the CTR.
  • Include meeting minutes

4. Be visually engaging and dynamic

  • Be more than text oriented – embed videos, include pictures
  • Have dynamic content on the first page, so that there is always something new
  • Have a coherent architecture that naturally but quickly leads users to the content that they want, whether it be documentation about the CTR or the archival holdings of the CTR
  • Link out to University of Manitoba and partner events, projects & resources relevant to Indian Residential Schools.


As I finished my last class of the archival studies program at the University of Manitoba this past Wednesday (December 4th), my mind immediately switched into thesis mode, although my body had other plans.  My final paper that I handed in for my TRC course looked at transparency theory of the past as well as current endeavors that seek to use transparency as a means of encouraging participation.  The final section of my paper took a hard look at this blog as a case study to determine its effectiveness as a transparency mechanism.  Although it has reached a large number of people living in a number of different countries, the blog has limitations because it seems likely that it would appeal specifically to readers from an archival or academic background, which automatically limits who can participate in the blogging process through sharing or commenting.  This is not to diminish the value that has been added to the blog by having people leave comments; it is simply to state that only a specific set of voices are being heard, which of course has been an archival dilemma for far too long.

Since I am assuming who my audience is based on my fear of only reaching a limited audience, it would be much appreciated if you (the readers of this post) could introduce yourselves in the comment section below.  By doing so, you will either prove me wrong or reinforce my assumptions.  Either way it would be a great way for me to learn something about the blog`s audience, and it would also allow for the community of readers that has been following the blog to interact and participate in the discussion.

Over the past number of weeks, I have stumbled across a number of resources that have analyzed how governments and institutions can achieve transparency and in turn, user participation, by utilizing social media tools such as blogging and wikis.  Kate Theimer offers one of the best summaries of archival case studies that have utilized social media to become more transparent and promote user participation in A Different Kind of Web: New Connections Between Archives and our Users (Theimer, Kate, ed. A Different Kind of Web: New Connections Between Archives and Our Users.  Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2011).  One of the case studies offered in this book that is of particular interest to my research is Malinda Triller`s article that looks at the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections and their attempt to use blogging as a way to improve their reference inquiry management system.  Triller explains how Dickenson used to have a paper based filing system to store their reference inquiry forms (similar to many archival institutions) but moved to a more transparent way of answering inquiries.  By using a blog, Dickenson is able to answer inquiries and upload the forms (redacting any personal information) to the blog for any researcher to access.  By doing this, it improves the overall efficiency of the inquiry system by ensuring that the same inquiry is not researched and answered twice, and it also renders the reference inquiry process transparent by having archivists put themselves and their reference inquiries on the world wide web for everybody to see.  Of course it is important to respect researcher privacy when desired.

Although this system offers an effective way of utilizing social media to document the archival processes behind reference inquiries, it only represents one way for archives to utilize social media services.  Certainly there exists many other approaches that can be taken.  I am curious to know if anybody has any other examples to share of archives (or other types of organizations) who use social media for transparency or participatory reasons.  Seeing as I am using this blog as a case study for my thesis, I will be attempting more and more each post to encourage participation.

I strongly believe that if archives wish to remain relevant, they must open up to a more transparent way of documenting archival processes and allow room for user participation to not only improve the contextual information associated with records and improve the overall accessibility of records, but to also share with users something that archivists have been withholding for far too long: archival authority.

Please stay tuned for more NRC updates.

Jesse Boiteau

As I dragged myself out of bed this morning (Friday, November 15), I decided that I should write a post to discuss the issue around the eventual naming of the National Research Centre (NRC).  Seeing as the NRC is only the temporary name for the physical archive of the TRC, it is only natural that discussions have already begun regarding the archive’s official name.  Last Friday (November 8), I had a chance to see for the first time the website for the NRC: NRC on Residential Schools website.  Since the site has been circulated and viewed by the NRC’s Information Technology Committee (a sub-committee of the larger Implementation Committee), the issue surrounding the name “NRC” has been brought to the fore and discussed by the committee’s members.  Assistant Professor of the U of M’s Archival Studies M.A. program Greg Bak brought up the important point that the name “National Research Centre” gives the impression that academic research is the main priority of the centre.  In response to Greg’s comment, a number of suggestions were given by other members of the committee, including “Centre for Truth and Reconciliation” and “Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on Indian Residential Schools.”  As it turns out, the temporary name for the centre is the “Truth and Reconciliation Centre on Residential Schools” according to the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Trust Deed, and there is also a consultative process in place for the eventual naming of the Centre as anticipated by the University’s Bid for the NRC.

What are your thoughts on the naming of the NRC?  Please leave any comments or suggestions bellow.

In related news, the TRC’s mandate has been extended for one year (June 30, 2015)!  This morning’s edition of Arcan-l (Vol 103, Issue 12) mentioned the announcement of the extension.  Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has released the following statement:

“I am pleased to announce that the Government of Canada will work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, as well as the Ontario Superior Court to provide the Commission with a one-year extension to its operating period, until June 30, 2015, as requested by the Commission.”

For more information on the extension, please follow the links below:

Please stay tuned for more NRC (insert new name here) updates.

Jesse Boiteau

Who is Brett Lougheed?

photoBrett Lougheed is a Digital Curator/Archivist at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.  He has been seconded by the Office of the Vice-President (Research) to assist in the development of the functional requirements for a system to preserve, describe, and provide multi-tiered access to the primarily digital records of the National Research Centre for Residential Schools.

The story behind his secondment (in his own words):

(The only thing more frightening than the following tale is Brett’s soon to be Movember Moustache)

As I write this blog post it is October 31, 2013 – Halloween.  And in the spirit of the day I want to share with you a scary story.  This story is all the more frightening because it is true!!

It was a dark and stormy night …

The mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is set to expire on June 30, 2014.  The following day, the National Research Centre for Residential Schools at the University of Manitoba is expected to assume stewardship responsibilities for what is expected to be approximately 150-200 TB of data accumulated as a result of the functions of the TRC, including recordings of TRC events, public and private statements from Residential School Survivors, as well as digitized copies of government and church records provided to support the work of the TRC.  In exactly 8 months, the Research Centre is expected to have put in place a system that will not only preserve this large volume of records in perpetuity but also provide the TRC’s user community with uninterrupted access to this data during this transitional phase.  [Cue lightning strike, shrieks of horror, maniacal laugh]

From the perspective of someone involved in the development of this system, this tight time frame for implementation is terrifying.  The University put forth a lot of effort over a nearly three-year period in developing its bid for hosting the National Research Centre but it was not until June 21, 2013 when, during an emotional signing ceremony on campus, an official announcement was made that the University had been selected.  Although preparatory planning was undertaken prior to this announcement it was not until the UofM was officially selected as the site for the NRC that planning for its implementation really began in earnest.

An Information Technology sub-committee of the Implementation Committee was struck consisting of Shelley Sweeney (University Archivist and co-Chair of the Implementation Committee), Doug Stoyko (Director of Computer and Network Services), Greg Bak (former Digital Archivist at Library and Archives Canada and current Assistant Professor in the UofM’s Archival Studies program), Camille Callison (Indigenous Services Librarian), Kiera Ladner (Associate Professor in Political Studies), Marlene Atleo (Associate Professor in Educational Administration, Foundations and Psychology), Jesse Boiteau (blogger extraordinaire and current Archival Studies student), and myself.  This committee meets bi-weekly to discuss technological issues surrounding the implementation of the NRC, primarily the design and implementation of a digital asset/content management system that will realize the vision for the NRC detailed in the UofM’s bid document.

Three key themes regarding the functional requirements became evident during my initial read through of the bid document: access and privacy, co-curation and participatory archiving, and digital preservation.  The NRC system will have to provide access to records locally and remotely, allow for multi-tiered levels of access via authentication, and adhere to culturally appropriate access protocols.  The system will have to enable the creation of a network of virtual communities of Survivors, their families, scholars, and others whereby users can communicate with each other and contribute to the record via co-curatorial means such as adding descriptions or tags, creating their own digital collections, and uploading their own content.  And the system will have to be able to preserve the digital content for the long-term by employing digital preservation strategies in the goal of establishing a Trusted Digital Repository that adheres to established international standards such as the Open Archival Information Systems Reference Model (OAIS) and the Trustworthy Digital Repositories Audit and Certification Checklist (TRAC).

Starting this week I was seconded for a 3 month term to solely work on further developing the functional requirements for this system.  This process will involve closely reviewing the bid document and extrapolating from the requirements outlined therein.  It will also involve researching similar systems – similar in content and functionality – to determine whether there are lessons to be learned from the implementation of these systems, and whether we might utilize their technology or replicate their functionality in the development of this system.  Although I do have some experience in developing the Libraries’ digital asset management system, I am an archivist, not a systems analyst or architect, so my input will be mostly from an archives perspective.  We plan to involve a content management specialist who will work with us to ensure that the archival requirements are formulated in such a way that they are understandable and usable by a system architect for the design phase of development.

The development of this system has to be as consultative as possible to ensure that it meets the expectations of Survivors, their families, researchers, and the general public.  A panel of stakeholders is being established that will be consulted on a regular basis regarding the requirements, design, testing, and implementation of the system.  But I would also appreciate any and all feedback from anybody with an interest in this project, especially at this early stage in development.  I can be reached via email at, or leave a comment on the blog.

As it stands, the National Research Centre (NRC) will house the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as well as a number of church and Government records associated with Indian residential schools (IRS).  Yet, the TRC is merely one of three components that have emerged from the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).  Before I get ahead of myself, allow me to explain the history behind this agreement.  Prior to the establishment of IRSSA, there was a system in place that aimed to compensate IRS survivors for their experiences at residential schools.  This process was called the Alternative Dispute Resolution process (ADR) and it was a complete and utter failure.  It was a system that was not built on trust and it forced the Survivors to prove their stories regarding their IRS experience.  On a monetary side, the administrative costs associated with this process were much greater than the settlement payments themselves, and it would have taken decades to process all of the claims.  At this point, the Canadian government decided that significant changes needed to be made to avoid a lengthy process that would be detrimental to reconciliation.

For more information on the failure of the ADR process, please view the Parliament of Canada’s Report on the Effectiveness of the Government Alternative Dispute Resolution Process for the Resolution of Indian Residential School Claims. 

These significant changes resulted in the establishment of IRSSA and its three branches:  the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), and the Common Experience Payment (CEP).  Common Experience Payments were awarded to all Survivors who could prove their residential school attendance, and they were awarded a certain amount of compensation for each year they attended.  The IAP process however is more in depth and requires an adjudicator to be present while the Survivor is giving their oral testimony.

The various records associated with the CEP and IAP processes help document the compensation process associated with IRSSA, similarly to how the records of the TRC are being archived to help understand the process of truth telling and statement gathering.  Additionally, these record sets also shed light on the IRS experience.  Not everyone who attended a residential school has come forward to use the platform of the TRC as a healing tool, yet a much larger number of Survivors have been involved in either the CEP or IAP process and the information that they provided could build on the sharing mindset that the TRC has already established.  For example, the application form for the IAP process requires specific information related to the applicant’s experience including past abuses as well as current and future needs resulting from said abuses.  The IAP record set also includes audio recordings that would be invaluable to the NRC as well as the individuals using the archives.  Even if they needed to be closed due to privacy reasons, simply having them in the archives would give the Survivors who went through the process a feeling of contribution towards the knowledge building around the IRS‘s history.

That being said, it is very important to understand that the survivors who went though the IAP and CEP processes did so under the impression that these records would not be made available for public consumption.  Although these records contain rich archival and historical information, we must respect the survivor’s wishes around privacy, and if the NRC is eventually awarded the honour of housing these records, it will be imperative to consult with Survivors and Indigenous groups and communities to create a set of access protocols for these record sets that were created for entirely different reasons than those of the TRC.

In closing, although it is the mandate of the TRC to document and preserve the legacy of the residential school system, I believe that acquiring the records of the IAP and CEP processes is crucial for the NRC in order to document the complete history of Indian residential schools.  It is easy for me to sit here and advocate for the transfer of these records to the NRC without even mentioning the archival challenges that would be associated with them (access, restriction, and storage to name a few), yet I want people to understand that the TRC is not the only record set associated with Indian residential schools, and that IRSSA’s Schedule “N” (the schedule that outlines the establishment of the National Research Centre) does not mention the fate of these records.  We cannot allow these records to fall through the governmental cracks that have been refusing access to and using Indigenous records against Indigenous people for far too long.

Please stay tuned for more NRC updates.

Jesse Boiteau

On Wednesday, September 25th, I participated in an interesting discussion during one of my University courses (History 7392: Archives, Public Affairs, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) after being asked to read an article by Michelle Caswell entitled Rethinking inalienability: trusting nongovernmental archives in transitional societies.  In the article, Caswell discusses how archival institutions in Cambodia can establish trust with the individuals who were affected by the Khemer Rouge Genocide.  Naturally, we took this thought and applied it to Canada to try and brainstorm how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) National Research Centre (NRC) could build trust with the Survivors of the residential schools and their families.  In the University of Manitoba’s vision statement that was included in their proposal to become the repository for the TRC’s archive, the idea of “stewarding” the records of the TRC is often used, emphasizing the fact that the U of M would not own the records.  Instead, they would be housing and preserving the records for an undefined period of time, or until an Aboriginal archive is established that could take on the responsibility of managing such a large collection.

The University of Manitoba’s vision for the NRC

Yet, Caswell suggests that stewardship must be based on trust.  That being said, how can the NRC build trust?  My classmates and I agreed that it is going to take more than just applying the idea of “stewardship” to build trust.  It is going to take initiatives and programs created by the NRC, using the records found within their holdings in collaboration with Aboriginal communities, organizations and members of the general public.  In the University of Manitoba’s official proposal document (not yet available to the public), they outline some key ideas such as allowing the public to arrange, describe and add new records to the NRC (the notion of co-curation that I discussed in my previous post), as well as having an online forum that would aim to help connect people who have been separated from their families and communities because of residential schools.

The records of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg

The records of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg

A good example of a participatory archiving initiative can currently be found in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  The Urban Aboriginal History Project has been established to collect and preserve the records of Winnipeg based urban aboriginal organizations (the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre and the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg to name a couple).  In addition to these records, interviews have also been conducted with some of the pioneers who have contributed to the establishment of said organizations.  In terms of participatory archiving, this project has involved young Aboriginal students to help process the records (appraisal, arrangement, description) as well as conduct and edit the interviews.  In fact, seven members of the project will be presenting at a colloquium taking place at the University of Manitoba on October 5th entitled “I have never forgotten his words”: Talking about Indigenous Archives,  including Aboriginal committee members from the project.  The goal of the panel will be to discuss the significance of the project as well as the direction in which it is heading.  Perhaps if my family and friends attended the colloquium they would finally understand the work that I am doing, and perhaps they would begin to understand what an archivist really is.

In addition to promoting the colloquium, I am also mentioning it because it is important to understand the context in which the NRC is being established.  The Canadian archival landscape is currently being flooded with the terms “participatory archives” or “collaboration” and “community”, but this notion of a more participatory way of archiving has not been put into practice.  Although projects such as the Urban Aboriginal History Project do exist, larger archival institutions across the country seem to be holding back in terms of Indigenous and participatory archiving… yet, perhaps this is a good thing.  Perhaps this should be a grassroots movement that is built from the ground up to ensure that the stakeholders’ voices are included and heard every step of the way.

And now it is time for me to practice what I preach.  What do you think can be done by the NRC to try and establish trust?  One of the purposes of this blog is to gain outside perspectives regarding the establishment of the NRC and I hope that the subject matter of this particular post will help kick-start the dialogue around the NRC and trust building.

Please stay tuned for more NRC updates.

Jesse Boiteau

On Wednesday, August 28, I attended and video recorded a meeting at the TRC office in Winnipeg to discuss and view the server that houses the records related to the Indian Residential Schools. One of the main issues that continued to surface surrounding the transfer of the server from the TRC to the University of Manitoba was security. Seeing as these records are electronic, new threats emerge that include computer hacks and the physical security of the server. At one point during the meeting, it was suggested that the server be locked up in “a cage on the floor” to ensure maximum security. Seeing as this was a concept that could be understood by my limited understanding of server technology, this was the single point throughout the meeting that pulled me away from my camcorder to jot down a quick note.

For more information on this meeting please view the short clip that I have uploaded to YouTube from the original video file.  The complete recording will also be kept as a record of this meeting.

The server tour portion of the meeting was particularly insightful for me, considering I had only previously seen a server on TV. Prior to the meeting, I had created an image in my mind of what the TRC server might look like, although instead of leading us into a large, dimly lit room littered with electronic equipment and blinking lights, Ry Moran, Director of Statement Gathering and National Research Centre, lead us to a small, well lit room with a single “rack” of equipment. Although this moment felt quite anticlimactic, I was impressed with the highly sophisticated cooling system that was being used to ensure that the server would not overheat. This system consisted of two Walmart issued table fans, along with a gaping hole in the ceiling where a suspended ceiling tile once resided. All joking aside, we were reassured that this setup was sufficient, and the University of Manitoba’s IT crew members who were also attending the meeting did not seem concerned. They actually looked more like kids in a toy store, or archivists with a never before opened box of records for that matter.

Following the server tour, Greg Bak, Brett Lougheed, Peter Houston and I met with Ry Moran to view the current setup of the TRC’s database, or as I soon discovered, multiple databases. The front end of the main TRC database has a keyword search engine that leads to six distinct databases; three of which list the records of the federal government (Federal Government (NRA), Library and Archives Canada (LAC), and OGD (Other Government Database)). The remaining three databases display the school authority records, the video interviews along with transcripts, and the church records. This meeting brought to the fore another issue surrounding the transfer of these digital records; to keep or not to keep the existing database software. On one hand, it would be free and easy to set up seeing as it has already been established. On the other hand, it is being envisioned that the National Research Centre be established differently than your average archive, and along with this vision comes certain ideas that are simply not possible with the TRC’s current database. For example, it would be ideal to have a database that would allow for participatory archiving, or co-curation if you will. Archivists can only fill in so many historical gaps, and having a system that allows for residential school survivors, their families, and general researchers to help describe, arrange, and even add new records to the NRC would be an invaluable tool that cannot be overlooked.  My next blog post will touch on the concept of co-curation as well as other functional requirements that will be important in the creation of the NRC’s database. 

Please stay tuned for more NRC updates. 

Jesse Boiteau