The Residential School abuse settlement was a massive legal undertaking, involving over thirty seven thousand thousand individual applications to the Independent Assessment Process for compensation amounting to billions. Each application contained excruciating details of the abuse suffered by the applicant- descriptions of cruelty, assault, and even rape. After over ten years of processing claims, the process is now finally drawing to a close, and the focus is now shifting to trying to make sense of what happened and to craft a lesson for future generations, lest the mistakes of the past be repeated.
To that end the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has been created as a permanent home for the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These archives are intended to ensure that future generations will have access to first hand accounts of the abuse. How better to tell the story of the residential schools than through the raw testimony of the survivors, in their own words.
The establishment of the archives creates a delicate situation for the Federal Government. As important as the goal of educating future generations is, not all survivors whose records are contained in the archives, are comfortable with sharing their intensely personal stories.
The telling of their stories, which was the only way to claim the monetary compensation on offer in the settlement, opened old wounds, and forced applicants to confront demons that had been buried for decades, leaving many with feelings of shame and helplessness, and a deep desire for privacy.
Accordingly the government has now announced a protocol for dealing with the records pertaining to the individual applicants to the IAP. It is important for anyone who has made such a claim to be aware of their options.
The government’s default position is that all records housed by the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will be destroyed after September 19 2027. You need to take no action to ensure that your records will be destroyed. You may, however, always a obtain a copy of your records at any time until they are finally destroyed. For many, it is important that they be able to privately preserve and share the story of their family with their descendants.
For others, the power of the of the Truth and Reconciliation process comes from its very public nature, the education that it has provided for those of us who knew nothing about the horrors of residential schools, and the opportunity to shine a spotlight on that dark corner of the past. For them it is important that their stories be preserved.
If you want your story to become a part of the permanent record, you do need to take action to provide the NCTR with your consent, and you have a further decision to make. Do you want future access to your records to be “restricted”- that is, without your name or personal identifiers, or “open”where you might be publicly identified. Strictly from a genealogical perspective, open access is the only way your descendants could make the immediate family connection to their heritage.
If you need to know more about your records the website http://www.MyrecordsMychoice.ca is a good place to start. And please know, that for once, the government is approaching the topic with sensitivity, and an awareness of the anguish caused by both the residential school experience and the re-telling of it. They have established a Residential Schools Crisis line. It is 1-866-925-4419. If you are in distress – call- you are not alone.