Shelley Sweeney and Brett Lougheed from the U of M Archives & Special Collections

Shelley Sweeney and Brett Lougheed from the U of M Archives & Special Collections

 

The Missing Children Project is a series of projects that have been conducted to determine not only the number of children who died in residential schools, but also how they died and where they were buried.  A working group was struck in 2007 to make recommendations on how best to pursue this endeavor. It met for 18 months and the Commission accepted their recommendations in 2009. A team of researchers has been working ever since; studying the records that have been collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to create a national register of deaths that occurred at all Indian Residential Schools that could be further analyzed. By way of statistical analysis, they have been able to calculate certain percentages surrounding the deaths of Aboriginal children in residential schools.  For example, they were able to calculate the rate of death associated with the various schools, regions and religious denominations.  It should be noted that the register of deaths is an ongoing project that will take time to complete seeing as new names of children who died continue to surface

On August 21, 2013, I attended a meeting that consisted of employees from the TRC (Ry Moran, Kim Murray and Alex Maass) and employees from the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections and University of Manitoba staff (Shelley Sweeney, Greg Bak, Brett Lougheed and Jesse Boiteau) to discuss the Missing Children Project.  In the near future, the U of M will have the honor of housing the records of the TRC (both physical and digital) once they have established the appropriate infrastructure to accept the transfer of the TRC’s massive amount of digital records.  This National Research Centre (NRC) will be located on the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry Campus and it will be accessible to residential school survivors, their families, researchers and the general public.

During the meeting, Alex Maass (the Missing Children Project Manager) outlined the main sources used in their research and shared some of their findings with the group, and although the amount of digital records that is being housed at the TRC is quite substantial, the amount that is related to the deaths of the children are limited as the original data collected by the government and produced to the TRC under the Settlement Agreement was in fact collected to document the Survivors for the purposes of compensation and not the students who never returned home.  These sources include, but are not limited to testimonies of the residential school survivors and archival records, some found within cemeteries located across Canada that have marked and unmarked graves of some of the Missing Children.  Sadly, there remain individuals that have yet to be found, and in some cases, entire cemeteries cannot be found.

Although this meeting was slated as being a sort of “show and tell” for the project’s findings, it more than once veered off track into conversations around the functional requirements of the NRC’s database and issues surrounding privacy.  In terms of privacy, these records are more culturally sensitive than most record sets, and as a result, we as a group felt as though they should be treated as such.  For example, although certain records may be legally open and could be made accessible to the general public, the records may contain information that could be damaging to a family or community.  An example of this would be if a record contained information about the death of a child that happened far enough in the past that the record is deemed open, yet the cause of death may be new information to the child’s family, such as suicide.

On a more technical note, we discussed what a transfer of digital records could look like.  Issues surrounding the lifespan of a digital file (an Excel spreadsheet for example) emerged throughout the meeting and discussions surrounding how to properly store the digital information for long-term care and ease of public access were important points that will require further pondering and research.  Although I am known in my family as being the “go to tech guy”, the technical aspects surrounding this transfer of data is a whole new world to me.  My next post will discuss these aspects as well as the physical transfer of the TRC’s server that houses their digital records.

For more information on this particular project or news related to the TRC, please visit their website at www.trc.ca or leave a comment below.

Please stay tuned for more NRC updates.

Jesse Boiteau

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