Unmarked graves, undisclosed records

“The federal government has turned over all of the records we have for residential
schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.” 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, October 18, 2021

“Unfortunately, this is not accurate.” National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), October 19, 2021

“I have therefore directed my Department to take all necessary measures to hand over the relevant school narratives and the associated documentation to the NCTR. This includes approximately 12,000 documents.” Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Marc Miller, December 20, 2021

“We will be transferring [to the NCTR] … about 875,000 documents.” Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Marc Miller, January 20, 2022

In the wake of the discovery of unmarked graves on the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a joint news conference with Chief Rosanne Casimir in Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc on October 18, 2021. The Prime Minister apologized for failing to respond to an invitation to join the community for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

In his prepared remarks – and again in response to a reporter’s question – the Prime Minister claimed 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 this occasion, the Prime Minister twice addressed the Kamloops Indian Residential School records specifically:

“When it comes to the Kamloops Indian Residential School, for example, we have full or partial records going back to the late 1800s – everything but the first two years this School was in existence – and if there’s more, we’ll work to find it, and if there’s other organizations, like the Church, that have it, we will stand by you, and make sure that we get that information, too – because we can’t have Reconciliation without Truth.” [02:19:06]

“We have in our understanding turned over all of those records including, for example, full or partial attendance records to the Kamloops Indian Residential School dating back to the 1800s, with I think only the first two years of the existence of the school, where we don’t have any records at all. All of those are being held by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as the central repository for all those records. As people well know, we are working with, and Indigenous leaders are working with, the Catholic Church and other organizations to get them to turn over their records as well.” [02:47:06]

The next day, however, the NCTR disputed the Prime Minister’s claims – noting that negotiations with the Canadian government for the release of records have been on-going since the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2015, including:

  • Statistical records, databases, and documents used in the Independent Assessment Process (IAP)
  • Provincial death certificates and coroners’ reports for children lost at schools
  • Federal health records
  • Indian Hospital records
  • Indian Day School records

The NCTR also observed that “we are still waiting for Canada to provide the final versions of school narratives and supporting documents used in the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) to the NCTR. The NCTR has various school narratives on its website, but some are out of date. For other schools, no narrative has ever been provided to the NCTR.”

The NCTR omitted mentioning that the school narrative for the Kamloops Indian Residential School was one that the Canadian government had never turned over.

[see “Background to School Narratives” (post pending)]

Two months after the Prime Minister had claimed that all Indian Residential School records had been turned over to the NCTR, the Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Marc Miller acknowleged that the Canadian government had been withholding the Indian Residential School records of four Catholic entities that had refused to waive litigation privilege. The Alberta Native News later identified these four entities:

  • Sisters of St. Ann
  • Sisters of Charity of Providence of Western Canada
  • Sisters of the Presentation
  • La Corporation Episcopale Catholique Romaine de Prince Albert

In his written statement, the Minister undertook to turn over additional school narratives and approximately 12,000 associated documents to the NCTR within 30 to 45 days.

Following through on this undertaking one month later, the Minister and the NCTR’s Executive Director Stephanie Scott held a joint news conference to sign a Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement for the transfer of approximately 875,000 documents from the Canadian government to the NCTR.

Among these documents, were 11 additional school narratives, including (finally) one for the Kamloops Indian Residential School:

“Today we’re talking about effectively eleven school narratives. A school narrative may seem like a very simple thing it isn’t. It can be school enrollment and names. It can have various levels of information. The Kamloops one is rather extensive. I wouldn’t pretend to be complete, but that is one of the ones being transferred today. It has plans at times of the site. It can have etchings. It can have various levels of confidential information.” [00:27:01]

The Alberta Native News later identified these eleven school narratives:

  1. Assumption
  2. Fort Vermilion
  3. Grouard
  4. Sturgeon Lake
  5. Kamloops
  6. Kuper Island
  7. St. Mary’s
  8. Mistassini Hostels
  9. Kivalliq Hall
  10. Fort George Anglican (St. Phillips) – 2016 updated version
  11. Norway House (United) – 2016 updated version

Reportedly, there are no school narratives or other surviving documents for the Indian Residential Schools at Lac La Biche, Lesser Slave Lake, St. Augustine (Smoky River), and St. Joseph’s (Dunbow).

So far, the NCTR has published the first eight of these additional school narratives on their website. The three remaining school narratives should be posted shortly.

[See Updates below]

It’s difficult to explain how, within the space of three months, senior elected officials of the Canadian government were forced to retract their claim that there were no more Indian Residential School records to release and admit instead that the government had withheld 875,000 records (and counting).

It’s nearly impossible to believe that the Prime Minister intended to mislead the general public – and especially his grieving audience in Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc.

An alternative explanation is damning enough. First, the federal bureacracy was negligent in failing to advise the Prime Minister that hundreds of thousands of Indian Residential School records were being withheld. Second, the Prime Minister was so unfamiliar with the issue that he found his widely inaccurate claims credible.

Updates

July 6, 2022

We discovered that the NCTR had posted three additional School Narratives on its website:

  1. Fort George (St. Philip’s), Quebec – redacted
  2. Sarcee (T’suu Tina, St. Barnabas), Alberta
  3. Fort George Hostels, Quebec

These additional School Narratives don’t align with The Alberta Native News’ reporting (above).


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