Fighting for history: Uncovering the truth of residential schools

Toronto Star


By: Tim Alamenciak News reporter, Published on Fri Aug 29 2014

WINNIPEG—There are two sacred boxes in the offices of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
One is a bentwood box sculpted from a single piece of cedar by an indigenous artist. Its panels are adorned with the mournful carved faces representing First Nations and Métis who suffered through the residential schools era, when government-sanctioned institutions systemically tried to eradicate indigenous culture, tore apart families and operated havens for child abuse.

The other box is a tall obelisk tucked away in an air-conditioned closet. Its blinking lights and bright blue screen belie the sacred stories that lie within. The archive stored on the server — more than four million letters, photographs and government records — is the life’s work of the truth commission. Where the bentwood box represents reconciliation, the black server tower holds truth.

This story is about the struggle for history. The government of Canada was responsible for the creation and administration of a system that included more than 130 residential schools spread across the country. Many were tucked into the corners of the nation, run for more than 100 years by dozens of different church groups including denominations of Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians and the United Church. All of these parties kept records of the institutions they ran.

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