Narratives for four Indian Residential Schools come to light

[Update: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/catholic-orders-residential-school-records-1.4686472]

Last year the federal government indicated that no school narratives had been created for four Indian Residential Schools and, therefore, that the government would not be providing them to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) under the terms of a landmark Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement that was negotiated in the wake of the discovery of unmarked graves on the former grounds of Indian Residential Schools.

In response to a request for information, however, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) has just released a package of information pertaining to Indian Residential Schools, that includes versions of school narratives for these four Indian Residential Schools.

Three versions of the school narrative for St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School make for especially harrowing reading as it records the deaths of 22 sick children in a 15 year period. The government has redacted a passage of about 7 lines under a sub-heading “Graveyard” and another passage of about 9 lines under a heading “Documents referring to school incidents”.

Background

In a previous post, we chronicled an extraordinary breakdown in communication between Canada and First Nations – and even between parts of the federal government – regarding the disclosure of records pertaining to Indian Residential Schools.

In the wake of the discovery of unmarked graves on the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed on October 18, 2021 that the Canadian government had turned over all documents pertaining to Indian Residential Schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) in Winnipeg.

On December 20, 2021, the Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Marc Miller had to acknowlege that the Canadian government had been withholding the Indian Residential School records of four Catholic entities that had refused to waive litigation privilege. The Minister undertook to turn over additional school narratives and approximately 12,000 associated documents to the NCTR within 30 to 45 days.

On January 20, 2022, Minister Miller held a joint news conference with the NCTR’s Executive Director Stephanie Scott to sign a Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement for the transfer of approximately 875,000 documents – including eleven additional school narratives for Indian Residential Schools – from the Canadian government to the NCTR. The Memorandum also disclosed –with no explanation – that Canada had created no school narrative for four Indian Residential Schools:

  • Lac La Biche
  • Lesser Slave Lake,
  • St. Augustine (Smoky River)
  • St. Joseph’s (Dunbow)

Request for information

In December 2022, I applied to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) for records pertaining to policies and procedures governing school narratives in general and the (lack of) school narratives for these four Indian Residential Schools in particular.

CIRNAC’s response letter and release package arrived this week and include versions of school narratives for each of these Indian Residential Schools.

Table 1 provides metadata for these versions of school narratives – including three versions prepared for St. Joseph’s in a 12 month period – and their locations within CIRNAC’s release package.

Figure 1. Newly released schools narratives for four Indian Residential Schools.
Indian Residential School
Report Title
Dates Extent
(Location)
Lac la Biche (Notre Dame des Victoires)
Draft IAP [Independent Assessment Process] Narrative
Narrative update: August 17, 2011
Narrative completed: September 26, 2012
3 pages
(pp. 58-60)
St. Peter’s (Lesser Slave Lake)
School DR [Dispute Resolution?] Narrative
DR narrative completed: February 28, 2006 6 pages
(pp. 63-68)
St. Augustine’s (Smoky River)
IAP School Narrative
Created: February 20, 2006
Draft updated for IAP: November 26, 2008
Draft updated: February 13, 2009
10 pages
(pp. 73-82)
St. Joseph’s (High River, Dunbow)
IAP School Narrative [version 1]
Draft date: March 8, 2013
Updated: September 12, 2013
7 pages
(pp. 85-91)
St. Joseph’s (High River, Dunbow)
IAP School Narrative [version 2]
Updated: September 12, 2013
Updated: March 8, 2014
9 pages
(pp. 92-100)
St. Joseph’s (High River, Dunbow)
DRAFT IAP Narrative
IAP School Narrative [version 3]
Draft date: March 8, 2013
Updated: September 12, 2013
Updated: March 8, 2014
9 pages
(pp. 100-109)

The three versions of the school narrative for St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School make for especially harrowing reading. Versions 2 and 3 record the deaths of 22 sick children in a 15 year span: “a boy died of consumption” (1888); “one male pupil had his leg amputated and recovered his operation then died from consumption” (1892); “six pupils died … three from consumption, one from liver complaints and two from scrofula” (1892); “three pupils died” (1893); “four pupil deaths” (1894); “three pupil deaths … two from consumption and one from brain fever” (1897); “two pupils died … from secondary illnesses following an outbreak of the measles and two pupils died of consumption” (1899); “one male pupil died of phthisis” (1901); “one male pupil died from brain fever” (1903).

Redaction

CIRNAC’s response letter cites grounds for its having redacted some parts of the school narratives – and advises that there’s a complaint process.

Two redactions in the set of St. Joseph’s documents seem worth asking about:

  • a passage of about 7 lines under the sub-heading “Graveyard” in version 1 (p. 7 of 7) is redacted – and is omitted altogether from versions 2 and 3
  • a passage of about 9 lines that was added under the heading “Documents referring to school incidents” in versions 2 and 3 (p. 7 of 9)

Next steps

As I worked with CIRNAC on my original request for information, I decided to focus initially on the five year period beginning 2007 (when the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was negotiated). I will soon submit a similar request for information for the period 2012-15 – covering the remaining years of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s mandate.

 


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