Archives for posts with tag: University of Manitoba

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

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

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 or leave a comment below.

Please stay tuned for more NRC updates.

Jesse Boiteau