READ THE TRC REPORT (Canada’s national archives: Sharing Aboriginal history…, pp. 303-304)


Hi, my name is Tina Adcock and I’m a professor
of history at Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, British Columbia, which sits on unceded
Coast Salish territory. The section of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission that I’ll be reading today begins on page 303, and it’s entitled Canada’s national
archives: sharing Aboriginal history versus keeper of state records.
As Canada’s national archives, Library and Archives Canada has a dual function with regard
to its holdings on Aboriginal peoples. It is both a public history institution tasked
with making documents relevant to Aboriginal history accessible to the public, and it is
the custodian of federal government departmental historical records.
In 2005, LAC issued a “Collection Development Framework,” which set out the principles
and practices that would guide the institution’s acquisitions and preservation of its holdings.
The framework made specific commitments regarding materials related to Aboriginal peoples.
LAC recognizes the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to the documentary heritage of Canada,
and realizes that, in building its collection of materials, it must take into account the
diversity of Aboriginal cultures, the relationship the Government of Canada has with Aboriginal
peoples, and the unique needs and realities of Aboriginal communities. The development
of a national strategy will be done in consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal communities
and organizations, and will respect the ways in which indigenous knowledge and heritage
is preserved or ought to be preserved and protected within or outside of Aboriginal
communities. Library and Archives Canada has developed
various guides and resources related to researching Aboriginal heritage. But a fundamental tension
exists between LAC’s public education mandate to work collaboratively with Aboriginal peoples
to document their cultural and social history versus its legal obligation to serve the state.
This tension is most evident where archived documents are relevant to various historical
injustices involving Aboriginal peoples. Historical records housed in LAC have been used extensively
as evidence by both Aboriginal claimants and Crown defendants in litigation involving
residential schools, Treaties, Aboriginal title and rights cases, and land claims.
In the case of documents related to residential schools, the problems associated with LAC’s
dual function became apparent during the litigation period prior to the Settlement Agreement.
During this time, with regard to its public education mandate, LAC produced a document “Native Residential Schools in Canada: A Selective Bibliography” in 2002,
and assisted Aboriginal people, academics, and other researchers who wished to access
these holdings. But, because the residential schools litigation put the federal government
in the position of being the major defendant in the court cases, the overriding priority
for LAC, as the custodian of federal government departmental records, was to meet its legal
obligations to the Crown. Librarian and Archivist Emeritus Dr. Ian Wilson,
Canada’s former national archivist, described this tension. He explained that, as the residential
school litigation intensified, Lawyers besieged the archives. Archivists, caught between the
vagaries of old informal recordkeeping practices in church schools across the country, legal
demands for instant and full access and obligations to employer and profession, struggled to uphold
their ideal of the honest stewardship of the records…. This process has tested the capacity
of the archives and our professional ability to respond.
These challenges did not end with the implementation of the 2007 Settlement Agreement. The TRC’s
own difficulties in gaining access to government records held in LAC demonstrated why state-controlled
archives are not necessarily best suited to meet the needs of Survivors, their families,
and communities. By 2009, in terms of public education, LAC
had partnered with the Legacy of Hope Foundation and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation on two
exhibitions: Where are the Children? Healing the Legacy of the Residential Schools; and
“We were so far away …”: The Inuit experience of residential schools. Library and Archives
Canada also produced an updated online version of the bibliography, “The Legacy of the
Residential School System in Canada: A Selective Bibliography.” In 2010, LAC made an online
finding aid available, “Conducting Research on Residential Schools: A Guide to the Records
of the Indian and Inuit Affairs Program and Related Resources at Library and Archives
Canada.” In the spirit of reconciliation, LAC archivists
(along with church archivists) brought binders of residential school photographs to the Learning
Places at the TRC’s National Events, where Survivors and others could see them and get
copies of their class pictures and other school activities. For many Survivors, especially
those who had no visual record of their own childhood or no pictures of siblings who have
since passed away, this proved to be one of the most treasured aspects of the National
Events experience. However, during this same time period, LAC’s holdings and its role in
complying with the federal government’s legal obligations for document production,
under the terms of the Settlement Agreement, became the focus of court proceedings between
the TRC and the federal government. And this section ends there.

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