By Miranda Leybourne
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A new agreement from the province to share previously unreleased information with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will benefit people searching for answers about family members who attended residential schools, says a co-ordinator with the Brandon Friendship Centre.
At a press conference in Winnipeg, a newly finalized deal between the Manitoba Vital Statistics Branch and the centre was announced by Government Services Minister James Teitsma and Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Eileen Clarke in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action 71.
Action 71 calls upon chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies to make their records on the deaths of Indigenous children in care of residential school authorities available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
As the organization entrusted to receive, hold and archive the commission’s records, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will add the newly acquired documents to the permanent record of what happened in the residential school system.
The agreement will have a positive impact on survivors and their families who are searching for more information as a means to heal, Debbie Huntinghawk told the Sun on Monday morning.
“That’s a beautiful game changer for a lot of people,” she said.
In her role as ’60s Scoop programming co-ordinator, Huntinghawk spends her days with people who were adopted out of their Indigenous families in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, helping them to reconnect to their culture. Often, this means assisting them with finding information about their family members’ time at residential schools.
But her connection goes deeper than that. Huntinghawk has also been on an exhaustive search to find more information about her father’s time at residential school. The eldest of six siblings who were part of the residential and day school systems, information on her father has been very hard to come by, she said.
“We had to go to the archives in Ottawa to get information, and everywhere you went, there’s all these barriers,” she said, noting the cost of accessing records is often the largest hurdle. In some cases, she had to pay up to $40 per search.
“There can’t be a fee for Indigenous people to look for their own records,” she said.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation currently houses more than five million records in its archival collections, most of which were created or collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada during its mandate. Records are also kept on various issues and subject areas important to Indigenous communities across the country, the centre’s website states.
The new agreement will allow the centre to collect, use and disclose records for the purposes of establishing a missing children register, assist in providing insight into burial locations, causes of death and rates of death of children who died in the residential school system and more, according to a news release.
Survivors looking to access their residential school records can visit the centre’s website at nctr.ca, where they can fill out a survivor inquiry form and send it by mail or email.
Intergenerational survivors, family members of those who attended
residential school, can access records by filling out a third-party inquiry form and sending it in the same way. There is no fee.
Huntinghawk said she and countless others can now potentially access information that is vital to healing the trauma that was passed down from generation to generation as a result of residential schools. Finally having answers about family members that never came home is important as well.
“People give up. People give up and then they die not knowing,” she said. “Why does it have to be so hard?”
Miranda Leybourne is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the BRANDON SUN. The LJI program is federally funded.