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.