Role of Canada’s Museums and Archives in Reconciliation in Wake of Indian Residential School Abuses

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) many calls to action that focus on the information management community (museums, Library and Archives Canada, archivist associations, vital statistics agencies, etc.).

Earlier this month, the TRC released its findings after its years-long investigation into the many abuses against Aboriginal children at Church-run Indian Residential Schools in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This week, the ActiveHistory.ca website published an article by Krista McCracken, Archives Supervisor at Algoma University’s Shingwauk Residential School and Wishart A. Library.

It is called The Role of Canada’s Museums and Archives in Reconciliation:

“The report features 94 recommendations to facilitate reconciliation and address the legacy of residential schools, including a set of recommendations relating specifically to museums and archives. Given the challenging past relationship between the TRC and archival institutions these recommendations are perhaps not surprising.”

“The TRC went to court in 2012 and 2013 to gain access to archival records relating to residential schools held by Library and Archives Canada. The Commission’s recommendations go beyond the issue of access. It also includes calls to action relating to best practices, commemorative projects, public education, and compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (…)”

“The executive summary pointedly notes that museums and archives ‘have interpreted the past in ways that have excluded or marginalized Aboriginal peoples’ cultural perspectives and historical experience….as history that had formerly been silenced was revealed, it became evident that Canada’s museums had told only part of the story.'(p. 303) (…)”

“Archives also have a crucial role to play in the preservation of a representative and accessible history of Canada. Holdings need to be described in a way that is respectful to Indigenous worldviews, Indigenous people have a right to access material created by and written about them, and that access should not involve insurmountable barriers. Archives play a crucial role in ensuring all sides of the past are documented and archivists need to look at their practices to ensure Indigenous voices are being preserved in a complete and respectful way.”

“Archives and museums which hold material created by Indigenous people or who create exhibits on the history of Indigenous people need to look toward better models of collaboration. Not simply token collaboration which sees an elder opening meetings but collaboration which involves First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people in a meaningful and respectful way. The creation of best practices and guidelines for archives and museums that are developed at a national level would be a huge step forward in the heritage field. I hope that the heritage profession at large takes heed of the TRC’s words and thinks carefully about how it can help work toward reconciliation.”

ActiveHistory.ca describes itself as a “website that connects the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events.”

 

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