Aug. 26, 2021

Why We Need to Talk About the Discovery of Unmarked Grave Sites at Residential Schools with Raymond Frogner

Why We Need to Talk About the Discovery of Unmarked Grave Sites at Residential Schools with Raymond Frogner

The head archivist at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has an enormous and important task. Raymond Frogner and his team have to take 4 million documents, 7000 interview statements, tens of thousands of photographs and maps, make these records searchable, available and usable to educate Canadians about the residential school system. Raymond believes that the country is going through a period of mourning but that as a country, we are at a point where we can choose to learn about past atrocities or forget about them. He is very optimistic that we want to learn.
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The head archivist at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has an enormous and important task. Raymond Frogner and his team have to take 4 million documents, 7000 interview statements, tens of thousands of photographs and maps, make these records searchable, available and usable to educate Canadians about the residential school system. Raymond believes that the country is going through a period of mourning but that as a country, we are at a point where we can choose to learn about past atrocities or forget about them. He is very optimistic that we want to learn. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

Transcript

This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One territory, the traditional territory of the Anishnawbe, Cree, Oji Cree, Dakota, and the Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis nation.

This is Humans, On Rights. A podcast advocating for the education of human rights.

Here's your host Stuart Murray.

My guest is Raymond Frogner. Raymond is the head archivist for the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation or as it's sometimes known as the NCTR.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation is the repository for all the materials collected by the Truth and reconciliation Commission of Canada purposed to compile the complete history and legacy of Canada's residential school systems.

Gonna be a lot to have a conversation about in this episode.

But I want to say welcome Raymond to humans on rights.

Thank you for having me.

Raymond, let's start at the beginning.

Uh tell us a little bit about where you were born.

Worked a little bit about your history, who you are, your family uh what part of the world you you came too too in.

And then we'll get into obviously about your role as the head archivist at the NCTR.

But tell us a little about who you are.

I was born and raised in in Port Alberni which is a small town on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, not far from Tofino which most people are more familiar with but it is the entire areas laced with residential schools which of course growing up I was never instructed on um in in any of my um Kindergarten to Grade 12 of courses of any sort whatsoever.

So I I grew up in in the very common sort of colonial silences that existed in our generation about the issues of residential schools.

Although having said that growing up, I had, my neighbors were indigenous.

My friends at school LTD although they were because Port Alberni had one of the largest residential schools on the west coast and one of the most notorious sexual predators as well.

And arthur plant.

And it was interesting, I did have friends in elementary school growing up that were indigenous.

And the closer I got to grade 12, The lower the number of indigenous kids that were in our school.

Um, to the point of thinking Grade 12, there was maybe just a couple in a large, in a large high school.

So from there I went on to university and didn't get again much instruction without pressing for it on the issue of residential schools.

Taking a step back.

Um you know, all of this time, I never heard anything about my mother's family.

To the point where even when she passed away of cancer, she never mentioned my sisters and I would ask her and she never would mention growing up who her family was.

So I knew nothing whatsoever about her relatives, her mother, father, um siblings, anything growing up.

And that's just the way she wanted it and that became accepted that it was, it was a tremendous silence which is one of the common characteristics of Canadian society was the silences of that generation for various reasons.

And it turns out that as a after graduation I went off to work and I got a phone call one day from my sister who said basically are you sitting down?

And I said Yes and she goes well I have some news for you.

one our mom was indigenous and two we have a brother.

It turned out that my mom was actually from near Duncan's reserve in the Peace River district and she had relatives who were part of that first nations community.

And she attended um she's very mission which was a catholic mission.

And of course and this is a very common expression um that's used all across all across the north that Children went to convents.

They were often talked about his convents not residential schools, not not missions of any kind for indigenous Children, but convents of general of a general sort.

Um And again I think sometimes that she was just hiding the fact that she did have these um this indigenous background.

But um the way it went was it turns out that um My mom did attend this chassis permission until the age of 16 when she had a child and was immediately expelled by by the Catholic um administration of course she left the child with her aunt um and ran away.

Part of the mystery is that remains is how did she manage to take the train from Dunvegan South to Edmonton as a 16 year old girl with no money.

But she ended up in as a sort of a teenage runaway in in Edmonton.

Um And I often think about the missing immigrant women's inquiry and how lucky she was that she actually survived that that experience.

But that's where she met my father and they moved to the west coast and that's where my memory of everything began.

But the way it worked was was actually our our half brother David tracked us down and um contacted my sister.

And then since then I've met him several times And I've gone back up to jerry where his film and I met my relatives of my mother.

Which was quite quite interesting because they had tons of questions about what she was like as an adult.

And I had the same number of questions of to them about what she was like as a child when I came back to the N.

C.

Chair.

Because by this time I was working there actually sent an email off to the band council of Duncan's reserve finding a name in the band council.

Not that was one of my relatives in a family tree that my half brother had made for us to demonstrate to us that we were actually from him of that family.

And I sent the email saying this might sound strange but I wonder if there's any potential that we're actually related.

And about five hours later I got a return email from the band council members saying I've spoken with elders and it turns out they're cousins and that's how that silence was was finally overcome.

But I think it's a very typical Western, Canadian story about the colonial experience residential schools, especially the identity of women in this entire equation of colonialism and that's kind of how I found myself.

But by then it was interesting.

I had already had a tremendous interest in indigenous history and rights and those.

Um, I was in archival school and my brother tracked me down and to graduate from my m.

A.

In history and I was going back to archival school and tracked us down.

So my my focus in archival school was on archives and indigenous rights And since then it always has been.

And That's how I ended up.

I ended up, I worked for the University of Alberta for 10 years as a private records archivist where I taught a course in indigenous rights.

I moved down to the road BC Museum where I um, one of my part of my portfolio was a focus on indigenous matters.

I wrote a unesco application to have the Douglas treaties recognized in the memory of the world program and began to work on the idea helping papers for the same purpose and those are both now inscribed as part of the unesco memory world program.

And um I think it was probably my work there as well as my studies and publications.

They got me accepted as the head of archives for the N.

C.

T.

I.

Which is where I'm working now.

That's a tremendous journey.

Um if if you don't mind Raymond, I'd like to just go back a little bit too when you're in school in Port Alberni, as you say, when you look back now, what was there in front of you?

You didn't see was there were you attending a school where indigenous Children were intending as well.

I mean were they housed in a different place or what sort of relationship with the indigenous Children of your schoolmates if I can use that term, where would they have come from?

Where were they, where would they be living at that time?

I didn't know that much And and myself included.

Um the one thing I did notice was a particular level of poverty and some of the Children, but having said that, I grew up in the same neighborhood as they did.

I didn't recognize them as any anyhow significantly different than myself in terms of material um possessions.

None of us had much, but I mean we all seem to seem to be fine.

And were you aware just Raymond at that time, even though you were very young and you know, I just I grew up and punish eyes saskatchewan.

So I was very much much like you, I was exposed to residential schools but from the colonization side, I never saw it until much later in life.

So I just would like to come back to you for a second Raymond and say when you grew up, you know as youngsters, the word discrimination wasn't something that we even kind of knew about at that point.

You know, we just were in a place and so we all did things together.

But let me ask you, did you ever see that at any point?

Did you ever see or did you ever see discrimination at that time that you might not have realized?

But looking back later in life, clearly that's what it was and I'm not talking about the colonization piece.

It's really the out and out discrimination.

As I said, there was a clear poverty line that existed in the areas of Port Alberni where there were um indigenous groups and families.

Um, there was a distinct level of poverty.

My dad for example, worked on him.

He walked logs as a boob man um in Port Alberni and many of his co workers were indigenous.

Um, and I remember the one thing that he did complain about was the fact that there was, there was an insular group on the booms, what was, what was curious about that was it, the incident group was made up of veteran like log boom man and indigenous boom man who kept to themselves and kept a very tight knit group.

Um, and didn't allow too many new people coming in, which I remember my dad saying was probably not the best idea, but um, is particularly poverty.

Um, I can remember in grade three a house fire where an entire family was lost.

Um and our art teacher at the time um coming to class weeping and telling us that the entire family had been lost in one of the, one of the kids from the family was in my class.

In other words, integrate above me.

Um and it was just an unintended fire that the story of the entire house.

But again, it was, I think, you know, part of the material conditions of the, the poverty that was in existence.

I mean the reserve that was in Port Alberni was on the other side of the, of the Soma's canal and the interaction was limited.

Um and growing up it seems that goes more concerned with playing soccer than talking about politics.

Right?

Exactly.

You know, I think that is, that's part of the awakening that we're now seeing as a nation.

Right.

Most of us, so many of us, Raymond, how when you graduated from high school, when did you start to get interested or wanting to learn more about indigenous culture or you know, some of the things that, that you started to say this is an area that I'm very interested in, I'm fascinated about and I want to do more research on it.

And I went to Malaspina College and I did for my first two years simply for financial reasons before I went to UBC.

And um, I had some good teachers in, in the history program there, that um, um, that exposed me to ideas about indigenous history that had never been, you know, taught to me in any classes that I've never had before, that.

So I was really in those college classes that um, a consciousness of the whole idea of colonialism and um what it means to be, especially Western, Canadian in that context.

Um, that's where it began to be, the really began to think critically about it.

And and would you say, I mean, this is always, you know, it's part of a learning journey we're going on as a nation.

But if you look back Raymond at that point, as you started to learn about colonization, the impact that it's had.

Would you say that your experience at that early stage of your career, was it, is, was it is if you look back today, would you say, you know, they really were understanding and really teaching, or was it really more of a, just a skimming of the importance of it?

I just want to get a sense of how much were they talking about the devastation of what colonization has done at that time when you were just beginning to learn from your level of interest, there wasn't a focus on, I don't recall any kind of Edward's side style colonization course.

Is there anything that at that time?

Um but it was beginning um and these are the times, this is in the The early 80s.

Um so this was a time when there was sort of an indigenous movement towards rights, collective rights in general.

Um that was beginning and by the time I was in grad school um our grad class for example um was offered, offered research opportunities and I remember one of them keith Carlson took it um and he became the head of of the faculty of History at the University of Saskatchewan and he's now back at the University of the fraser Valley, but um he became a researcher for the solo first nation um for their land rights negotiations.

And he came to that through his um brad's class at the University of victoria, they simply asked for researchers and at that time in particular, I can remember um ideas about indigenous identity, Percolating tina lose article about dan cranmer potlatch chemo in Canadian historical review.

Um So they were beginning to be um significant critical issues being raised by the time I was in grad school.

Um um it was a constant um a constant source of dialogue and discussion in all of our classes and how many indigenous students professors would you have had an opportunity to meet during that time, We had an indigenous woman in our grad class um who I think went back to our community to do work, I'd have to look up her name, I'm sorry.

Um but uh she for example, I was working at the student newspaper and I I was able to convince her to write an opinion piece in the editorial page that had a look at the the newspapers called The Market.

Um and um we did a special issue on colonialism at that time, um which was which was fairly um I thought fairly significant for its time.

Um and it had a good response across the campus.

Um and she was very happy to be um be able to do that.

And she went on to complete her thesis um on I think it was the social programs for indigenous communities on the west coast.

So at that time it was there was definitely a groundswell of interest and consciousness um in um in law in in academics, um and in popular politics.

Um there was definitely, if you could you could you could sense the momentum um and court decisions were actually opening the door to to two significant challenges.

I mean, after calder Um which was 72, but after that it became legitimate To use indigenous traditions and customs in court as evidence of of rights and title.

Um and that opened the door in the 80s and 90s too, as an enormous amount of of class action suits um issues regarding collective human rights by indigenous groups to the point where um Larissa was struck um to try and move away from the courts um and get to some kind of collective agreement across settler and indigenous communities.

Yeah, Raymond, I wanted to just ask, you know, your your experience, uh one of the things that has happened is, you know, we were seeing more and more issues going to court around land rights around, you know, pipelines, you know, where it's very much aware of where we are today, but when you go back to some of the, some of the early days when you were exposed to this, you know, you look at the conversations and educations and academia, would you say from your perspective that those were great conversations, then they met a lot, but when this whole, the conversation about indigenous rights started to pivot from a human rights perspective was because of decisions that were done in court, was that kind of a moment in time, or would you say, look, we were well adverse in academia talking about all of these things, they were going to be part of our national conversation one way or another, I would say, yes, they would, they were going to happen.

Um the momentum was their um indigenous activism, which actually began in the sixties.

Um and even in the refusal of the white paper and those kinds of things, Coulter was just a confirmation of a movement that was already growing.

Um and I think after that um you know, Garen and Sparrow and all of those big decisions um band repeat that sort of confirmed that there was um you know, indigenous knowledge models and epistemology that could be referenced for evidence of proof of of rights entitled, I think all of those things um were confirmed in by courts of law, but it's it's I read an interesting piece by PG Mccue who actually um he's an Oxford professor of uh of Indigenous law and he actually did some of his grad school work, University of Saskatchewan and he talked about um the tremendous sense of optimism um that there was like uh the potential that was there to to um you know, redesign understandings for for mutual recognition of rights in the in the eighties um in as law students um talking about, you know, what could be done in reshaping the constitution to to to make it a more participatory um document.

Um and he did lament that, you know, some significant court decisions sort of um funneled and channeled some of that enthusiasm um and some of that optimism about the potential for For, you know, a new constitution founded on mutual rights and human dignity or at least new interpretations of it happening.

I mean we did get section 35 in the Constitution Act which was which was a significant achievement and I mean, it did constitutionally recognize aboriginal rights.

Um, But the the sense of optimism potential that they had at that time in the early 80s, I think waned a bit in subsequent decisions.

Um once, once the courts got their hands on um the interpretations of what it meant and the constitution, the new constitution, for example.

Um and I wouldn't say that he's completely walked back from it, but I think a lot of those, a lot of that optimism and sense of potential and hope has been sort of tempered by by the realities of just the depth of the systemic racism of of the bureaucracies, the internal colonization of the way the government functions, all of those sort of hurdles that need to be overcome have kind of tempered that optimism.

Um, but it's still there, I think.

Um and I think it's it's um it's still happening.

The momentum might have slowed a bit, but I think it's still an inevitable recognition of human rights that's going to continue.

Yeah.

And I think we are, as I said, I think we're we're we're slowly waking up, you know, on this notion and and and and, you know, the tragedy is that as we're waking up as a nation, it's because we're going back and finding gravesites of murdered Children were going back and finding things that, you know, that are so traumatic for indigenous peoples that it's hard for many people to really comprehend some of these, you know, you look at some of the stories when they come out and people look at it and say that must have been another country.

Certainly that couldn't be Canada and yet it is who we are.

And so let me, let me ask you Raymond in your capacity as head archivist for the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

You must have a massive task of trying to take some of this information to put it into a process or make it available.

So that that Canadians can start to understand who we are as a nation and how we can learn about how we can advance this.

But certainly trying to learn to understand where we came from, what what are some of the challenges that you see and as you take on this job and become a big part of this conversation for this, this country called Canada first and foremost.

Um I think we're still in a period of mourning.

You talked to any of the community members from the communities that have at the Kamloops, Merivel Cooper Island in all of these places when we speak with the community members and discuss the idea about further investigations and what they mean.

Um it's it's uh the the sense of sorrow is palpable um that, you know, like in chief casimir when she made her official pronunciation on the discovery.

You know, her, her core message was to survivors and that was that you are still remembered in love first and foremost, we have to have a period of mourning.

I think people need to understand and um that you know, anytime there's a recognition of of, of loved ones lost, there has to be this period of not acceptance, but a recognition of what's happened to try and just to get your head and your heart around what exactly happened before before moving forward.

Um, I won't say rashly, but you know, when emotions are so high, um, and in all traditions western and indigenous, there's always a period of mourning when these things happen and I think it's completely legitimate at this time to think this is what's the first step in doing all this.

Just a few weeks ago, I was at the National Council of Elders and Turtle Lodge.

Um, and that was also what they were discussing was that, you know, there needs to be a time from this discovery because this is the first time it's been really brought out in the open where you know, the losses is recognized, the losses commemorated.

Um, and and in proper manner.

Um, and one of the, one of the things that I I think it's understandable speaking with one of the others, it was at Turtle Lodge.

Um he was saying, you know, in all of his teachings and learnings growing up as a young man and discussing this with other elders that were, you know, much older and wiser than he was as a, as a young man said, there's never been a time that he could ever recall or has ever learned of where, um, their culture and society had to deal with something like a mass grave in this kind of situation.

It's, it's not something, it's not something we deal with.

It's not a common in a global sense, even if it never and it shouldn't be.

But I mean, there is no, there is no federal laws regarding mass grave sites.

There's no provincial legislation.

Um, and there certainly isn't any, um, indigenous practice or customer or traditional laws.

And, and I mean, I put those on the same level.

I mean, traditional customs and laws, they don't want to by calling them traditional.

I'm not, you know, limiting them in any way, but on an indigenous side as well, there's there's no, there's no common practice to understand how to deal with.

And that's great.

Um, so that's first and foremost where we're at getting over that sense of mourning.

I think it will take time.

But I also would, um, there's a sense of, of just pragmatism, just as I said at this time when emotions are running so high, um, is maybe not the best time to begin to plan and dive into these kinds of, of, of, of researchers.

Um, and it has been kind of an interesting, almost I need your reaction to these revelations.

Um, and just to put it into context.

Um in 2018, I was approached by the mass Calgon First Nation in Southern Saskatchewan, um and they came to me and said they wanted to investigate on my grave sites at mass Calgon.

And at that, that time, at that time, no one was speaking about this.

Um it was common knowledge in the communities across the country and the Kamloops, Kuper Island in all these places, Miss Calgon, they all talked about it.

Um but amongst themselves or in, you know, small local media sometimes did stories on these things, but none of the national media picked up any had picked up any of it.

And when MS Calgon band Council came to me, um they had explained that erosion, soil erosion is beginning beginning to reveal some of the remains in these unmarked grave sites.

So, we set up a project to investigate and and see what we could be, what could be done.

We did archival research and discovered that the school had actually moved.

And um on the advice of elders, they were warned that they were building the school on top of unmarked grave sites, but they built it anyway.

Um and some of the archival records show that, yeah, um there was an acknowledgement by um the indian agent of the MS Calgon area.

Um and there was, there was talk about a commemoration, but nothing was ever done and that was in the 60s.

Um so we did go there and based on um we had a town, a town hall meeting with the Calgon community, I met with band council, we held ceremonies and did interviews with elders and then we went to the school and based on the oral histories, we investigated the area and returned again.

Um due to weather, we had to return again with archaeologist from University of Saskatchewan and the University of Alberta.

Um Terrence Clark University Saskatchewan and keeps the super net at the U.

Of A.

And um they brought brant country and radar And um we found 12 in one field we found the evidence of 12 remains.

Um and we made a documentary mini documentary on this um which I tried to make as available as I could.

I brought it to the association, the to Quebec and gave a presentation in french on the documentary about to the BC Museum Association.

I posted on our website and contacted other um other uh galleries and media outlets and nobody responded.

I even brought it to Mexico City for the International Council of Archives.

And there was almost there was one article that came out from that from the Washington post.

Um and nothing from Canada, That was 2018, wow.

And so so Raymond, let me just ask you, why do you think that is?

Why do you think there's no response, a lack of understanding of what the implications meant.

Um just what it was that that that documentary and to be fair, it was a short five or six minute documentary that we tried to promote a bit, um but it got no traction anywhere.

Um and I think it was, I mean in a typical daily News cycle, I think there's a lack of understanding of just what were these implications.

Um although by then, I mean at the same time, the TRC, by that time done six years of investigations and published its final report, I mean, this was barely 2.5 years after the final report got published in 2015.

So, I mean, unfortunately, um media didn't pick it up and it didn't seem to catch the interest of maybe it speaks to the common understanding of the residential schools um in Canada and partly they're, I mean they're still isn't um and we've spoken with ministries of education across the country, there still is no core curriculum that involves an education on the history of residential schools, in provincial education curriculum.

So, Um I think there was a lack of understanding and maybe this is in 2021, um there had been by that time enough um enough discussion, enough conscious raising um enough study that people were ready to start to accept this reality, um and that they came in such a dramatic volume and so fast without warning.

Maybe that impact was also something significant Because to be honest, um, in in less than a month and a half, I did over 40 interviews, national international, um china Al Jazeera, um, media elements from Sweden holland Germany, the BBC, they just, everyone seemed to want to know about the new york Times Washington post, which I find interesting because I've never seen a Washington post, the new york Times article on residential schools in the United States, which was the model for Canada.

But Um, nevertheless something somehow click this time that didn't in 2018, maybe it was just a repeated efforts at education.

It finally started to, to, to get some traction.

Yeah, I, I think that there's, there's probably to some extent and maybe I'm speaking for myself on this Raymond, but there's probably some extent about a guilt feeling, you know, you start owning up or you start saying, I know when I talk about some of the things that I saw in Moscow Berlin is one of the places we played hockey against their hockey team and they beat us constantly To be Frank.

But I recall afterwards the, it was an outdoor arena and you know, in the middle of winter, so it could be -30 cold.

But I recall afterwards Raymond that we would all get out of our change out of our hockey gear, get into our cities and we go into the school and the nuns would serve us hot chocolate in those, those, you know, green plastic cups and it was such a welcome thing and we would sit with, you know, our opponent if you will, the other hockey team and it just, you know, when I reflect on all of those times, so much later in life, I realized, you know what?

I was looking at them and saying how fortunate they were to have this hockey arena right here and all of these things not understanding for a minute.

You know, what was going on or what was happening behind the scenes.

So you know, I have some history, personal history with Scotland and and Daystar in Portman's and Gordon?

It was part of where I grew up.

So, um, so let's come back to you for a second.

Raymond, what what are you currently working on in your role as the head archivist at the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

Well, my focus has been on to put it monthly trying to de colonize a new institution because we are building a new archive from the ground up After the TC published its final reports.

They, they had, they were sitting on over four million documents, um, 7000 interviews, statements, um, maps, photographs, etc, um, that weren't organized.

Um, that didn't have a preservation program didn't have an access program.

Um, they just didn't have any of the typical archival um, methods and functions that you need to have to, to basically make these records spiritual available and usable and to be preserved over time so that future generations can have them, none of that um existed and um I have to say quite frankly, I think it was one of the biggest failings of the TRC and I'm not trying to say that the TRC was a failure whatsoever, but um by not assigning uh someone with a really strong archival background and experience to oversee the preservation of those records as they came in, um the acquisition to ensure that they're sorted um that they're understandable, that their formats are readable.

Um all of these things, all of the typical things that you need to do to make sure that this body of records could be made um accessible.

Um but having said all that, those are traditional archival functions and what we want to do um is try to find the indigenous voice and these records um and to give that voice a priority to have indigenous communities lead um the policies and how these records should be used in access because really what we're sitting on our very colonial records, I mean, this is like, you know, like Hannah Arendt says this is the banality of evil.

It's the daily operations of the residential schools, the human resource files, the building and construction, maintenance, transportation, all of the things that, you know, basically go into running a school.

But when when you put them all together, the combination is a systemic project of assimilation.

Um but if you read the daily the files themselves without putting them in that context they are just banel administrative documents of school operations.

Um So trying to bring an indigenous voice to all of that.

Um in addition to making um making the records available.

So the first thing we had to do was to try and um set up what we call we call deep pass description access and preservation project.

Um that that is to set up an IT infrastructure because the records were over 95% digital.

So the first thing I recognized we had to do was to set up an I.

T.

Infrastructure that would allow for us to best manage these records from an I.

T.

Sense.

And we have that now um I was able to get uh Canada Foundation for Innovation grant um For $6 million.

Um so the grant itself is it was quite a quite a journey of 100 pages and over 10 members.

But um as of December the grant came through and it's retroactive so we can use it to put towards our IT infrastructure.

So we now have a very solid foundation for the access and preservation um component of the of the Icty architecture.

The question now is how to how to make this how to make these very colonial records um ah understandable in a way that has meaning for colonial or for communities um and that the communities themselves take the lead in their access and use essentially to interrogate these records of oppression and assimilation in a in a new way.

Um, so we're looking at things like trying to build the participatory description applications so that communities can log in and write descriptions of photographs and documents um that otherwise were described by by religious orders and government administrations in a very sort of administrative manner um to what they mean to those Children.

So one of the concepts of kind of like to think of is that we're we're basically creating um case files of Children.

Um you know that the the organizing principles that by which these records were created were actually the operations of schools, the organizing principles that we want to try to use are the lives of the Children.

So, um rather than having records of hospitalization, um school records and that kind of thing that are put into those administrative silos, we'd like to have a child as the organizing principle and in the records of all those other different school administration admission, hospitalization etcetera, all related to that child.

So that, you know, that's the organizing principle.

So it's a it's a indigenous student case file rather as the sort of a virtual but still meaningful.

So Raymond, I have two questions.

One on on that.

Is there a way that that you or your organization or um an organization will have the opportunity to actually apply the indigenous name to each child that is being discovered in these grave sites.

That's an enormous question that we're still working on.

Um one of the things we did um, one of our first and largest projects was called the Missing Children's Project.

Um and it built on Volume five of the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report which was on missing Children and unmarked grave sites.

So the first step was um to organize and understand all of the records that the Trc had created regarding missing Children and and placed them into a database.

So when we when we when we inherited all those records, we had um several lists of PDFs spreadsheets on on the names of Children.

Um and there was also as the records were created, they were the names of everyone.

Teachers, administrators and Children were sort of harvested off of all of the pages to the to the result that there was A 10 million name list um that was created of all the people that were found on all these, all these documents.

So we're working with um Carson lee Young who's a professor of computer science major, focusing on data mining and he's trying to write algorithms that will try to sort this list Down to what we know was approximately 150 1000 Children that attended these schools.

Um so um and it's well known that you know, some very prominent national indigenous leaders had more than 10 different forms of their name used in admission and school records.

So we have to try and sort out all of the sometimes deliberate, sometimes unintentional means that these names were removed.

Sometimes the Children were only used only referenced by number.

Um They most commonly were given in western name french or english when they came to the school and they immediately lost their indigenous name.

So um at the result, the result was that we first step one or phase one of the missing Children's project was to try and collate and organize all of the records of the missing Children project that the TRC had investigated, Which we did.

Um and we now have what we call a death registered database which is based on cultural action 72 of the TC's final reports.

And so that um that database profiles each child with 15 fields of information, gender name, original community, original language.

Um because often in the records that we found um um and 50% of the time cause of death wasn't even recorded.

Um over 30% of the time the gender of the of the student wasn't even recorded.

Um so piecing together these these different pieces of information on each child is a is a long term program and project to sift through all these records.

So in phase one, we went through all of the records of the Trc and we also created a commemorative website which commemorates the loss of Children.

And we did that by spending over six months visiting communities across the country and getting their input into what would be appropriate for an online commemoration of these lost Children.

Um and ultimately it was just the name of the child, the date of death and the name of school.

The rest of the records are now in the death register, accessible only by special permission of the family.

Um but Phase two of these of this project, which is just now starting um and has been funded by Serena as was Phase one Um will be the next year and a half.

We will go through the rest of our almost five million records to guarantee that we have identified every piece of evidence we hold regarding the loss of a child.

Um Now getting back to your issue of identity.

Once we have the documentation of the loss of a child, we can start to pull together um the names um which is an enormous question.

I mean we will go back to families um and let them know that we've discovered these, this this evidence and potentially in interviews and discussions and engagement, we might be able to get some more information on names.

Um the naming project with Dr Leon will also help us on that.

Um and then our intention was when this project was completed that we would then move into unmarked grave sites that, you know, as we were going through the names list and finding evidence of lost Children, we would record any evidence that happened to be um available of of grave sites but there would be a full blown project for this.

Once we have a better understanding of the names however recent events occurred with um quite unexpectedly and we're now we're now we're not doing both.

Um Which is a which is um an enormous resource challenge for us but I mean it doesn't really do anything except just change the the agenda a little bit.

Um So to do that and we're actually to facilitate these investigations um which will be community led we're providing um and it's at the point of being released um a data repository for each community so that they can freely access and store research data as they're doing their investigations.

And then they won't have to worry about things like systems administration.

You know the cost of upgrades all that kind of thing.

We can take care of all the I.

T.

Issues and they can store their data there as they're doing their investigations.

There will be um there'll be uh sort of an open source wiki style discussion um that will be available as well for each community and they're all password protected by community.

So um each of these repositories will serve a single community as they do the investigations.

Having said all that it's still more pieces to an enormous puzzle that I think will take generations to work on.

Um Just to give you another example.

I was recently speaking with luke marston who was the um the artist who created our bentwood box for the trc.

Um And I was back, it is um Cali bay on his reserve.

This is just a couple of weeks ago actually, and luke has just finished his Master's degree studying um um the language.

And so I asked him actually the question you just asked me about names and luke.

And I were looking at maybe doing an article on um naming conventions because in archives giving a name to the records is one of the questions of access points.

If you're looking for someone, what is the name you used to try and access the records by.

And he told me that in this program, the programs taught out of S.

F.

U.

His professor um skip the idea of names because it's so complicated in in the language instruction that she literally avoided studying it in depth because there's just so much that goes on in in those discussions.

There's so many rules.

Um and as he's explained to me, it's quite common for people that have 10-15 names, depending on the context of how they're using them.

Um So how to bring that into into a system that allows you to search for a name and find documents related to that name Um in a linear it's it's not a linear 1-1 scenario, which is, you know, the database dream, But um it's so it's going to be, well it's gonna be regional, it's going to be contextual.

Um And I think maybe um I mean I'm not an I.

T.

Expert but we are moving away from this kind of siloed archival model of describing a set of records.

Um and then moving on to the next step.

But in fact there's a matrix of relationships across all these records.

So somehow we have to figure a way to capture that matrix of relationships that brings in names.

I mean just even listening to you Raymond to try to describe it.

Uh It sounds incredible.

But one thing that I must say that I admire is the determination To try to take the notion of 351 or a number and actually talk about real human beings, these were Children and they have a name and they should be identified and we should remember their name, not their number.

And fundamentally one of the cultural action that hasn't been reference very often is the cult to allow provincial governments to allow indigenous citizens to reclaim their names on official documents.

So their birth document, the driver's license etcetera etcetera to be able to change the names of those that's on those documents to the original indigenous names.

I mean that hasn't been talked about very often.

But it's starting, I know of a couple of examples where it has happened and I think that's another example of public policy where that could be implemented.

I mean not easily, but at least we can recognize that it's a process and I mean it is, it is a it is a big conversation, a big journey, I know those are too overused words, but that's really kind of where we are going as a nation and and I know that you know, I just was on your website and I had a great opportunity to get to know the three commissioners that were involved.

And um I was the inaugural President Ceo of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and and Willie as we call him, Willie Wilton, little child of course was a board member and also a commissioner along with Marie Wilson and Murray, Sinclair.

But I thought it was very interesting that on your website, it just when it references what some of the work you're doing that, it's not just a part of who we are as survivors, it's a part of who we are as a nation, as a country.

And I guess the one thing that I might ask Raymond as we close this this incredible podcast down and I with all you're doing, I just want to say thank you for finding some time to talk to me number one, it's just been a tremendous education and I thank you for that.

But if I were to ask you from your perspective, as you're as you're so heavily invested in this, what is the most important fact you would like Canadians to know about the residential school system, a phrase I I go back to all the time to the point where my wife accuses me of just like driving her crazy with it is that we are what we choose to remember, but we are also what we choose to forget and we're at a moment in time where we're making that choice and that's who we are as Canadians to to recognize and accept this fact that this is part of our history.

Um um and acknowledgment is the first step to some form of a new reconciled relationship across settler and indigenous communities.

Um and I mean everyone is talking today about resurgence of indigenous communities, not reconciliation.

Um but it's a, it's a long term goal that will, as senators as mary Sinclair has said, um you know, it took seven generations to deconstruct these communities and their their social relationships.

It could take another seven generations to rebuild them.

That that is for so many of us hard concept to even understand, You know, I I know that I've had a chance also to be at a turtle lodge.

It's such a wonderful spiritual place that it took me a while to understand that the notion of silence is sometimes more powerful than words and you know, that's a concept that again, it took me a while to sort of understand and I still struggle with it.

But those are the kinds of opportunities that, that, as you say, if you choose to remember and you you're interested and you want to learn what you're doing as head archivist of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

Raymond is, is going to be something that is legacy building.

And again, I've enjoyed the opportunity to meet with you.

I can't tell you how much I appreciate your time.

And certainly as a citizen of this country called Canada, I just want to say thank you to you, your team, all of the people involved at the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, for what you do.

I really appreciate your time and thank you so much.

Well, thank you for the opportunity to to bring out these discussions.

Um this is what raises the consciousness of our nation.

So I thank you Humans on rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray, social media, marketing by the creative team at full Current in Winnipeg.

Thanks also to Trixie may bite you in.

Music by Doug Edmund.

For more, go to human rights hub dot C A a production of the Sound off media company.

Hi, I'm Matt Kendell host of the sound off podcast, the podcast about broadcast.

Every week since 2016, we've been bringing on broadcast leaders to talk about their experiences and radio, what they've seen and where they believe it is all going.

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