It was a moving and symbolic gesture on the last day of the Sharing Truth conference in Vancouver. Speaking on behalf of Catholic, Anglican and Prostestant church archivists, General Synod archivist Nancy Hurn placed a diskette with 300 images of the residential schools from across Canada on top of a beautifully carved and painted bentwood. The box, carved by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston, features the faces of children who lived in the residential schools. It travels with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) across the country.
“This is the beginning of the transfer of information that we hope in some way will assist the survivors on their healing journey,” said Hurn at the special session featuring the observations of representatives of the church parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. “As archivists who work day to day with the materials that represent the lives of people who were exposed to the daily activities of life at the residential schools, we want to assure you that we have made every effort to ensure that copies of the records we hold have been provided for use in the Independent Assessment and the Common Experience Payment processes.” (These processes represent two different routes by which indigenous survivors of the schools can claim compensation under the $1.7 billion class action settlement.) More recent records of the litigation process will also be provided.
The archivists are currently preparing records for digital copying and transfer to the TRC’s archives staff for the establishment of a National Research Centre on Residential Schools, which was the focus of the Vancouver conference. Hurn noted that the protestant church archivists have a vision for a healing and education centre where survivors can place their personal testimonies and where their families can access that history for generations to come.
Viewing of photos or documents from the troubled past can trigger painful memories in some people, noted Hurn. “In a centre geared to survivors, staff who are trained to respond could be available to assist in these circumstances, so that the records may be used to ultimately aid in lightening the burden the survivors and their families carry.”
Educating church members about the legacy of the residential schools-the Anglican Church of Canada administered 35 such schools from 1820 to 1969–is part of the churches’ own truth and reconciliation process, Hurn said. “We want to walk on the healing journey with the survivors.”