|Truth & Reconciliation|
Historic agreement signed on National Aboriginal Day when Canadians celebrate Indigenous culture and peoples
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has chosen the University of Manitoba to become the permanent host of the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on Residential Schools to house the statements, documents and other materials gathered by the Commission during its five-year mandate.
“Knowing that the TRC’s mandate ends one year from now, we knew we needed something ongoing,” TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair told the roughly 300 people gathered June 21, 2013, to witness the historic moment.
“Part of that obligation is being assumed here at the U of M. It began with the President’s apology in October 2011, an academic institution taking responsibility for their part in the education [and assimilation process],” he said. “That was a factor that showed us that there was a very strong commitment here to truth and reconciliation, and the proposal by the U of M stood head and shoulders above the other proposals because it was also national in its scope.”
The announcement was just made at a Signing Ceremony at the University of Manitoba, Manitoba’s only research-intensive post-secondary institute. The U of M is committed to Indigenous Achievement and to making Manitoba a Centre of Excellence for Indigenous education and research.
Justice Sinclair told Survivors, dignitaries and community representatives that the new centre “has the potential to carry on the work and spirit of Truth and Reconciliation long after the Commission closes its doors.” The commission's mandate has been extended until June 2015.
Speaking on behalf of his fellow Commissioners, Chief Wilton Littlechild and Marie Wilson, he added that the proposal of the University of Manitoba and its partners to host the research centre “demonstrated a strong commitment to Aboriginal peoples and governance, the highest standard of digital preservation, long-term public access and the protection of privacy. Its current and pending partnerships for this project ensure that the records of the Commission will be accessible across Canada.”
Dr. David Barnard, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Manitoba, says: “The heartbreaking impact of the Indian Residential School system on First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples and cultures represents one of the most tragic human rights failures in Canadian history. The University of Manitoba is deeply committed to human rights research and promotion. It takes seriously its responsibility to ensure that the oral and written history collected by the TRC is respectfully preserved, helps contribute to the healing of our society, and is accessible for use in teaching and research so the grave mistakes of the past are not repeated.”
Reconciliation is important to the University of Manitoba and it has engaged with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities on this matter. The university has hosted a series of dialogues and exhibits on residential schools, sponsored seminars and symposiums on TRC issues, and partnered with the Lieutenant-Governor and the TRC for the event “Revitalizing Reconciliation in Manitoba – A Cross Cultural Dialogue.” And the Centre for Human Rights Research continues to advance the commitment the U of M made towards encouraging debate and discussion around the understanding of human rights, peace and justice, and respect for others.
In this regard, an historic first was made by Dr. Barnard in October 2011. At a TRC event in Halifax he became the first university president to offer an Apology to the TRC and Indigenous Peoples. Though universities were not involved in operating or funding Residential Schools, Dr. Barnard said universities failed to recognize and challenge the forced assimilation of Aboriginal peoples.
In February 2012, the University of Manitoba submitted a proposal to the TRC to host the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on Residential Schools. The proposal focused on local, regional and national partnerships; meaningful survivor and community engagement; a solid governance model; world-class archival expertise and facilities; privacy and access expertise; public education and awareness; and financial stability.
Among the university’s partners for the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation are the National Association of Friendship Centres, Legacy of Hope Foundation, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, University of British Columbia, Lakehead University, University College of the North, University of Winnipeg, Red River College, Archives Manitoba and St. Boniface University.
The requirement that the TRC establish a National Research Centre is included in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of 2007. The TRC’s mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in the 150-year history of the Residential School system, and to guide and inspire a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect.
The Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will house: thousands of video- and audio-recorded statements that the Commission is gathering from Survivors and others affected by the schools and their legacy; millions of archival documents and photographs it is collecting from the Government of Canada and Canadian church entities; works of art, artifacts and other “expressions of reconciliation” presented at TRC events; and all of the research collected and prepared by the Commission over the life of its mandate.
The Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will be located on the University of Manitoba campus, though an exact location has not yet been selected. But that is for the long term. “Today,” Elder and Survivor Florence Paynter said, “is about healing.”