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