Digital archive to help National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation access Residential School Survivor stories

·3 min read

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) received $2,411,773 to restructure and decolonize its digital archival records to promote innovative research meaningful to Indigenous communities.

Funding was provided through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grant which will enable archivists to build a digital architecture for their archives, allowing for better access to the stories of Residential School Survivors.

“Residential schools were a social engineering project of the federal government to basically erase Indigenous cultures from the Canadian landscape,” said Raymond Frogner, Head of Archives at NCTR in a press release.

“In one sense, the records held by NCTR are very much the institutional, administrative records of the colonial operation of these residential schools…. But these records are more than the administration records of schools. They record some of the most profoundly important events in a child’s life, and to bring Indigenous voices to them, is to decolonize them.”

NCTR has access to approximately five million documents kept in locations such as government and church offices.

These documents were primarily collected to meet these institutions’ colonial needs so this project is tasked to connect the information gathered. The IT Architecture will consist of personal narratives from Survivors, their families and communities.

This new project will be completed in four years and includes team members from the University of Manitoba (U of M), the First Nations Information Governance Centre, the University of British Columbia, the University of Winnipeg and Ryerson University, and the National Film Board of Canada.

“It will be an important opportunity to create these innovations in digital archiving from a perspective that centres and relies on Indigenous knowledge as well as Western, academic methods,” said Tricia Logan, project team member and Head of Research and Engagement at the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre on Thursday.

“This project will help provide additional support to Survivors and their families. It will collaboratively build community histories, and it will re-approach Canadian history in a way that includes residential school history as part of how Canada was shaped as a Nation.”

Photographs will also be included to showcase together with the information. The project will allow Survivors to explain the context of these images from their viewpoint, expanding on people’s understanding of what actually took place.

NCTR will organize records around individual Survivors into a single virtual case file. The Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP) in the U of M’s Rady Faculty of Health Sciences will then use the file to look at the impact of childhood trauma that was experienced in schools.

“I am very happy to be leading the MCHP contribution to this critical work in supporting the NCTR digital initiative. MCHP brings unique experience in the building of an internationally recognized research data repository that is de-identified,” said project team member and MCHP Director Alan Katz.

“This NCTR initiative requires a respectful awareness and appreciation of the hugely traumatic experiences recorded. There is a wealth of information that we should all be looking to learn from on our journey of reconciliation.”

Training sessions will be held to empower communities to statistically analyze the data held in this new format to gain insight and enable them to work with source material directly instead of pursuing the help of an academic.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun