Across Canada, undocumented and unmarked graves of Indigenous children are being located at former Residential Schools, reaffirming the testimony of residential school survivors. The role of residential schools in the willful dismantling and destruction of Indigenous peoples’ cultures and families is becoming increasingly obvious. Many are looking for ways to provide aid and support to Indigenous communities in their grief. Archives have a very particular and important role to play in these efforts.
At this time, we urge members of the Saskatchewan Council for Archives and Archivists to dig deep into their collections to see if they have anything that could be useful in identifying Indigenous children in unmarked graves at these residential school burial sites. Furthermore, we would encourage archivists to assess their holdings for any materials that relate to Indigenous genealogy. Families were torn apart by the residential school system and other colonial interventions like the 60s Scoop, and any information that can help bring the fragmented histories of those families back together is invaluable to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
Imagine the personal impact of uncovering a record of an uncle or aunt whom you never met, or a childhood photograph of a parent or grandparent that you didn’t know existed. Imagine finding names for multiple relatives who you know existed, but whose identities were erased through generations of colonial trauma. Imagine the healing power of rebuilding family histories and community narratives. This is a worthy example of the role archives can play in Truth and Reconciliation.
The SCAA reaffirms our commitment to Call to Action #77 as stated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:
We call upon provincial, territorial, municipal, and community archives to work collaboratively with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to identify and collect copies of all records relevant to the history and legacy of the residential school system, and to provide these to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The needs and voices of Indigenous communities must guide us as we pursue this work, and as a profession, we should attempt to decolonize methods in our archival practice. We must remember that for many Indigenous people, archives are emotionally complex spaces, in many cases reflective of the governing bodies that have historically repressed their culture and communities. We cannot expect Indigenous peoples to engage in the traumatic work of discovering this information in archives unsupported and on their own. Saskatchewan archives can play an important and active role in uncovering and identifying records that may have meaning to Indigenous communities, and by returning that information to those people, be it directly or through contribution to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives, https://archives.nctr.ca.
This work is of great importance. This is complex and sensitive work that can take an emotional toll on archivists themselves. The Saskatchewan Council for Archives and Archivists will be producing a series of resources to help our membership undertake this work and the council will do its utmost in supporting members as the work proceeds.
Please watch for future communications aimed at assisting you in conducting this work in a sensitive and trauma-informed way. Planned resources will include short pieces on: ways to engage in this research, the types of archival records that may be of value, how to connect with Indigenous communities, and how to utilize and support the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives. If you have any questions or suggestions for resources, please contact archives advisor, Cameron Hart at scaa.advisorsasktel.net.
Mark Vajcner – SCAA President
Stevie Horn – SCAA Chair of Diversity Working Group