Federal and provincial governments, medical institutions, and Catholic entities must provide open and accountable records access
Today, the NCTR is centering residential school Survivors and calling for additional supports for Survivors and their families, as we mourn and honour the lives of those lost to Canada’s residential school system. The Cowessess First Nation announced that 751 individuals, mostly children, have been found in unmarked graves on the former site of the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Shortly after the identification of 215 children on the grounds of former Kamloops Indian Residential School, today’s announcement further affirms the lived experiences and oral stories of Survivors and communities. For years, Indigenous communities were traumatized with not knowing where loved ones were; many Survivors shared memories from their childhood of seeing fellow classmates die or being forced to dig graves for their fellow students.
There should never be graveyards at school but we know there are many. This is a reality of the residential school legacy that Canadians have too long overlooked. This horrific truth can no longer be ignored. The least governments and churches must do now is to provide access to the necessary records to identify the locations of all the children and allow communities to honour them with the traditional ceremonies and protocols they were denied.
The recognition of these unmarked graves represent a new chapter in our collective understanding of the devastating impacts of the residential school system. This is a legacy which continues to resonate through generations and impact communities across Turtle Island today. Since the close of the TRC, the NCTR, charged with the comprehensive archive for the collection of records of residential schools in Canada, has confirmed the identities of 4,117 children.
The recent unmarked graves add to our understanding of this horrifying truth, and we know this number will only grow in the coming months and years. It is no longer enough to be outraged. The NCTR and Indigenous communities must have complete access to the outstanding records which are essential for the NCTR to undertake its work on the National Student Memorial Register and to locate and honour the missing children, as Indigenous communities and Canadians have demanded.
Navigating the landscape of incomplete and inconsistent Residential School records and Survivors testimonies while facing ongoing barriers from multiple levels to receiving full access to records is complex and will take time. We are calling on all governments, Catholic entities, and institutions to heed these calls to actions:
- The government of Canada has never produced a complete and up-to-date set of School Narratives for all residential schools. These Narratives are critically important baseline documents to understanding major events at the schools and there are many of them. Access to these documents is very important and must be fulfilled.
- Access to hospital and sanatorium records for institutions where Residential School students were sent is also an important part of this work, and access to these records by the NCTR is only in its very early stages and with a limited number of institutions.
- As per Call to Action #71, death records are essential to finding and identifying all the children who died due to the residential school system. Although some provinces have expressed openness to sharing these records and there are some conversations in progress, the NCTR has not received the records or vital statistics at this time.
- For years, the TRC and then subsequently the NCTR have called on various Catholic Church Entities to comply with the letter and spirit of the Settlement Agreement and to produce all of their relevant records to the NCTR.
Canada does not want to claim responsibility for the genocide that took place. However, the truth we are seeing unfold about the death of children torn from their families to attend a school where they were stripped of their culture, dehumanized, starved, and subjected to horrific abuse fulfills the internationally recognized definition of genocide.
They are deeply personal for all of us as our staff includes Survivors as well as children and relatives of Survivors, including a member with grandparents that attended the Marieval school. The NCTR remains committed to its role in holding these truths and acknowledges the important role of education and institutions in sharing these truths with all Canadians. While the enormity of the numbers are horrifying, we must remember that even one death of a stolen child left in an unmarked grave without the love of their families, is truly beyond words.
To honour the children lost, to acknowledge the legacy of the residential school system and its ongoing impacts, and to take the first significant steps towards reconciliation, Canada must act now with intention.
Stephanie Scott, Executive Director
National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR)