Magazine article Anglican Journal

School Records Submitted to TRC

Magazine article Anglican Journal

School Records Submitted to TRC

Article excerpt

It has been a long process, but on Jan. 16 the Anglican Church of Canada submitted its digital records relating to Indian Residential Schools--over 300,000 pages of documents--to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

For General Synod archivist Nancy Hurn, who co-ordinated the seven-year digitization process, it has been a journey filled with hard work. It has also, however, been a rewarding one.

"I've been an archivist for 30 years," said Hurn, "and this is predominantly the first time that I have looked at historical records that have such an impact on people's current lives."

Between 1820 and 1969, the Anglican church operated 35 residential schools across Canada, and as part of the 2007 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, it was required to provide the TRC with all information related to the residential schools held in its archives.

This was the task Hurn and the church archivists faced: finding all the relevant documents and making copies available for the TRC. Approximately half of the digitized records came from the General Synod archives in Toronto, which also holds records from the Arctic and Keewatin dioceses. The rest of the records came from the archives of 30 dioceses across Canada, including those that did not have residential schools within their boundaries. The documents Hurn and the other archivists compiled will be held at the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NRCTR) at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

Hurn said her feelings about the work have evolved over the course of the process. "In the first few years, during the litigation and alternate dispute resolution period, I was working late nights trying to really understand the schools and the staff, to research the records--it was pretty intense and disturbing and stressful," she said.

However, once the settlement agreement was established, things began to change. "It felt like we could actually do something that would make a contribution that might help the survivors understand their experience," she explained. "Doing everything we could to make sure they were getting the compensation they were due was important... It was just a piece of what the church needed to do." Former students and their families, academic researchers and media have full access to the church's schools-related documents.

One of the important goals of the archival work is ascertaining the number of children who died while attending residential schools run by the Anglican church. Hurn said records from the General Synod archives and the diocese of the Arctic have identified more than 100 children who died while at Anglican-run residential schools. These records were among those submitted to the TRC. Hurn noted, however, that there "could definitely be more Anglican deaths in places across the country." Archival research such as this has helped the TRC to estimate that at least 4,000 students died in residential schools across Canada.

But it is not just about the numbers. As Hurn noted, many of families have little or no information about how their children died. "Anything that can be added to the understanding of what happened to these children at the time of their death is so important," she said, adding that another ongoing question has been where the children were buried. …

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