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