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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Speaker 1: this podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on treaty, one territory, the traditional territory of the emission abe Cree Oji Cree Dakota and the DNA peoples and on the homeland of the mating nation.
Speaker 1: This is humans on rights. A podcast advocating for the education of human rights. Here is your host Stuart Murray today on humans on writes. My guest is Raymond Frogger. Raymond is the head archivist for the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation. Or as it's sometimes known as the N. C. T. R.
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: Going to be a lot to have a conversation about in this 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
Speaker 1: where you were born with, a little bit about your history, who you are, your family,
Speaker 1: what part of the world you, you came to you in and then we'll get into obviously about your role as the head archivist at the N. C. T. R. But
Speaker 1: tell us a little about who you are. I was born and raised in Port Alberni which is a small town on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island,
Speaker 1: not far from Tofino, which most people are more familiar with
Speaker 1: but it is the entire area is laced with residential schools which of course growing up, I was never instructed on in in any of my um
Speaker 1: Kindergarten to Grade 12 of course is of any sort whatsoever.
Speaker 1: So I I grew up in in the in the very common sort of colonial silences that existed in our generation about the issues of residential schools.
Speaker 1: 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 in our to plant.
Speaker 1: And it was interesting, I did have friends in elementary school growing up that were indigenous. And the closer I got to grade 12,
Speaker 1: the lower the number of indigenous kids that were in our school. Um, to the point of thinking grade 12, there's maybe just a comfortable 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
Speaker 1: you know at this time I never heard anything about my mother's family.
Speaker 1: 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 um growing up who her family was. So I knew nothing whatsoever about her relatives. Remember her father um siblings, anything growing up.
Speaker 1: And that's just the way she wanted it and that became accepted that it was, it was a tremendous silence which is uh one of the common characteristics of Canadian society was the silence is of that generation
Speaker 1: for various reasons. And it turns out that as a um after graduation I went off to work and
Speaker 1: I got a phone call one day from my sister who said basically are you sitting down and I said
Speaker 1: Yes and she goes well I have some issue. one
Speaker 1: our mom was indigenous and two we have a brother.
Speaker 1: It turns 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.
Speaker 1: And she attended Shastri mission which was a catholic mission.
Speaker 1: 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. Uh they were often talked about his confidence not residential schools, not not missions of any kind for indigenous Children but convents of general of a general sort.
Speaker 1: Um And again I think sometimes that she was just hiding the fact that she did have these
Speaker 1: um this indigenous background. But um the way it went was it turns out that
Speaker 1: My mom did attend this shaft permission till the age of 16 when she had a child and was immediately expelled by the Catholic
Speaker 1: administration. Of course
Speaker 1: 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 Ben begin self to Edmonton as a 16 year old girl with no money,
Speaker 1: but she ended up in as a sort of a teenage runaway in in Edmonton. Um and I often think about the missing and murdered women is incredibly, and how lucky she was that she actually survived that
Speaker 1: 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 half brother, David tracked us down and contacted my sister. And then since then I met him several times and I've gone back up to the area where he's from. When I met my relatives of my mother, which was quite,
Speaker 1: 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 empty chair because by this time I was working there actually sent an email off to the band council of Duncan's reserve
Speaker 1: finding a name in the band council. Not that was
Speaker 1: one of my relatives on 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
Speaker 1: I said the emails saying this myself strange, but I wonder if there's any potential that we're actually related.
Speaker 1: And about
Speaker 1: five hours later I got a return email from the bank council members saying I've spoken with elders and it turns out they're cousins
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: residential schools,
Speaker 1: especially the identity of women in this entire equation of colonialism
Speaker 1: and that's kind of how I found myself.
Speaker 1: But by then it was interesting. I'd already had a tremendous interest in indigenous history and rights and those.
Speaker 1: Um I was in archival school and my brother tracked me down to graduate from I. M in history and I was going back to archive of 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
Speaker 1: That's how I ended up. I ended up, I worked for the University of Alberta for 10 years as a private records archivist
Speaker 1: right out of course in indigenous rates
Speaker 1: and went down to Road BC museum where I, one of my part of my portfolio was a focus on indigenous
Speaker 1: matters. I wrote a unesco application to have the Douglas treaties recognized
Speaker 1: in the memory of the world programme and began to work in a high to helping papers for the same purpose and those are both now described as part of the unesco memory the world programme.
Speaker 1: And I think that's probably my work there as well as my studies and publications.
Speaker 1: They got me accepted as the head of Archives for the N. C. T. I. Which is what I'm working now. That's a tremendous journey. 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
Speaker 1: would the indigenous Children of your schoolmates if I can use that term? Where would they have come from? Where would where would they be living at that? I didn't know that much. And myself included. Um
Speaker 1: 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 poor neighborhood as they did. I didn't recognize him as any anyhow significantly different than myself
Speaker 1: in terms of material
Speaker 1: 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 in punishes Saskatchewan. So I was very much uh
Speaker 1: much like you, I was exposed to residential schools but
Speaker 1: from there
Speaker 1: 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,
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: at that time that you might not have realized? But looking back later in life,
Speaker 1: clearly that's what it was and I'm not talking about the colonization piece. It's really the out no discrimination. As I said there was a clear poverty line that existed the areas of Port Alberni where there were um indigenous groups and families. Um there was a distinct level of poverty.
Speaker 1: My dad for example worked on, he walked logs as a boob man uh in Port Alberni and many of his co workers
Speaker 1: were indigenous.
Speaker 1: And remember the one thing that he did complain about was the fact that there was an insular group
Speaker 1: on the booms.
Speaker 1: What was, what was curious about that was that the incident group was made up of
Speaker 1: veteran like log Buhman and indigenous woman who kept to themselves and kept a very tight knit group.
Speaker 1: Um and didn't allow too many new people coming in
Speaker 1: which I remember my dad saying was probably not the best idea, but
Speaker 1: um
Speaker 1: this is particularly poverty. Um I can remember in grade three a house fire or an entire family was lost.
Speaker 1: Um and our teacher at the time um coming to class weeping and telling us that the entire family had been lost in one of the,
Speaker 1: one of the kids from the family was in my class and otherwise integrate about me.
Speaker 1: Um
Speaker 1: and it was just an unintended fire that
Speaker 1: the story the entire house. But again it was, I think you know, part of the material conditions of the,
Speaker 1: the poverty that was in existence. I mean the reserve that was in Port Alberni was on the other side of the, of the famous canal and
Speaker 1: the interaction was limited and growing up
Speaker 1: it seemed that goes more concerned with playing soccer than
Speaker 1: talking about politics. Right. Exactly. You know, I think that is uh 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
Speaker 1: indigenous culture or you know, some of the things that
Speaker 1: that you started to say this is an area that I'm very interested in and fascinated about and I want to do more research on it. I went to mosque in college and I did for my first two years, simply for financial reasons before I went to UBC and I had some good teachers in history program there that
Speaker 1: um they exposed me to ideas about indigenous history that had never been, you know, taught to me in any classes that I never had before that. So it's really in those college classes that um, a consciousness of the whole idea of colonialism and
Speaker 1: um what it means to be, especially Western Canadian in that context.
Speaker 1: Um that's where it began to be. The really began to think critically about it.
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: 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 as was it as if you look back today, would you say, you know, they really were
Speaker 1: 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,
Speaker 1: there wasn't a focus on, I don't recall any kind of
Speaker 1: Edward side style colonization courses or anything that at that time, but it was beginning. Um, and these are the times, this is in the,
Speaker 1: 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 are grad class for example, um
Speaker 1: was
Speaker 1: offered offered research opportunities and I remember one of them keys Carlson took it. Um and he became the head of
Speaker 1: of the faculty of history at the University of Saskatchewan and he's now back at the university of the fraser valley.
Speaker 1: But um he became a researcher for the solo first nation for their land rights negotiations. And he came to that through his um grass class at the university victoria. They simply asked for researchers and at that time
Speaker 1: in particular, I can remember um ideas about indigenous identity, Percolating tina lose article about dan cranmer potlatch, chemo in Canadian struggle review. Um so they were beginning to be um significant critical issues being raised
Speaker 1: by the time I was in grad school. Um uh it was a constant,
Speaker 1: 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,
Speaker 1: we had an indigenous woman in our grad class. Um who I think went back to her community to do work. Um I'd have to look up her name, I'm sorry.
Speaker 1: Um but uh she, for example, I was working at the student newspaper and I
Speaker 1: I was able to convince her to write an opinion piece in the editorial page that had a look at the
Speaker 1: the newspapers called The Market. Um and um we did a special issue on colonialism at that time, um which was which was fairly in um I thought fairly significant for its time. Um and it had a good response across the campus,
Speaker 1: um and she was very happy to be um able to do that. And she went on to complete her thesis um on
Speaker 1: I think it was social programs for indigenous communities on the west coast.
Speaker 1: So at that time it was there was definitely a groundswell of interest and consciousness
Speaker 1: 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 to significant challenges. I mean, after calder,
Speaker 1: Um which was 72, but after that, it became legitimate
Speaker 1: To use indigenous traditions and customs in court as evidence of rights entitled. Um and that opened the door in the 80s and 90s too,
Speaker 1: us an enormous amount of
Speaker 1: class action suits um issues regarding collective human rights by indigenous groups. To the point where the Ursa was struck um to try and move away from the courts um and get to some kind of uh collective agreement across settlers and indigenous communities uh
Speaker 1: agreement. I wanted to just ask, you know, your your experience.
Speaker 1: 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, 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,
Speaker 1: you know, you look at the conversations and educations in academia, would you say from your perspective that those were great conversations, then they met a lot. But when this whole
Speaker 1: 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 at versed in academia talking about all of these things, they were going to be part of our national conversation one way or another,
Speaker 1: I would say yes, they would, they were going to happen. The momentum was there um indigenous activism, which actually began in the 60s. Um and even in the refusal of the white paper and those kinds of things,
Speaker 1: culture was just a confirmation of a movement that was already growing and I think after that um you know, Garin and Sparrow and all of those big decisions
Speaker 1: band repeat that sort of confirmed that there was
Speaker 1: um you know, indigenous knowledge models and epistemology that could be referenced for evidence of proof of
Speaker 1: rights entitled, I think all of those things
Speaker 1: um were confirmed by courts of law. Um but it's it's a 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
Speaker 1: that there was like the potential that was there
Speaker 1: 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 make it a more participatory um document. Um
Speaker 1: and he did lament that,
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: or, 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 is a significant achievement and I mean it did constitution recognized aboriginal rights. Um
Speaker 1: But 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.
Speaker 1: Um and
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: sense of potential and hope has been sort of tempered by
Speaker 1: by the realities of just the depth of the systemic racism of the bureaucracies. Um, the internal colonization, of the way the government functions, all of those sort of hurdles that need to be overcome, kind of tempered that optimism.
Speaker 1: Um, but it's still there, I think,
Speaker 1: and I think it's it's um it's still happening. The momentum might have slowed a bit,
Speaker 1: but I think it's still
Speaker 1: an inevitable recognition of human rights that's going to continue. Yeah. And I think we are, as I said, I think we're
Speaker 1: we're slowly waking up, you know, on this notion, 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,
Speaker 1: 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,
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: What are some of the challenges that you see.
Speaker 1: 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 talk to any of the community members from the communities that have
Speaker 1: that the camera apps, Merivel
Speaker 1: Cooper Island in all of these places when
Speaker 1: we speak with the community members and discussed the idea about further investigations and what they mean. Um it's uh, the sense of sorrow is palpable um that, you know, like in chief casimir when she made her official pronunciation um, on the discovery, you know, her,
Speaker 1: her core message was to survivors and that was that you are still remembered in love.
Speaker 1: First and foremost, we have to have a period of mourning. I think people need to understand and um that, you know, any time there's a recognition of, of, of loved ones lost. There has to be this period of
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: this is what's the first step in doing all this. Just a few weeks ago, I was at a national council of Elders in Turtle Lodge.
Speaker 1: Um, and that was also what they were discussing was that,
Speaker 1: you know, there needs to be a time
Speaker 1: from this discovery because this is the first time it's been really brought out in the open
Speaker 1: where, you know, the losses is recognized losses
Speaker 1: commemorated, um, and, and in proper manner. Um, and one of one of the things that I,
Speaker 1: I think it's understandable
Speaker 1: speaking with one of the others, it was up to the lodge
Speaker 1: who is a national big, 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
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: where um, their culture and society had to deal with something like a mass grave
Speaker 1: in this kind of situation. It's not something,
Speaker 1: it's not something we deal with. It's not a common in a global sense even. Um, it never, and it shouldn't be, but I mean, there is no, there's no federal laws regarding mass grave sites. There's no provincial legislation.
Speaker 1: Um, and there certainly isn't any, um, indigenous practice or a customer, our traditional laws. And I mean, I put those on the same level. I mean, traditional customs and laws, I don't want to
Speaker 1: by calling them traditional. I'm not limiting them in any way, but
Speaker 1: on indigenous side as well, there's there's no, there's no common practice to understand how to deal with them. That's great.
Speaker 1: Um, so that's first and foremost where we're at
Speaker 1: getting over that sense of mourning. I think we'll take time. But
Speaker 1: I also would.
Speaker 1: Um, there is a sense of, of
Speaker 1: just pragmatism, just as I said at this time when emotions are running so high.
Speaker 1: Um, it's maybe not the best time to begin to plan and dive into these kinds of,
Speaker 1: of researchers and it has been kind of an interesting, almost
Speaker 1: a knee jerk reaction to these revelations. Um, and just to put it into context. Um,
Speaker 1: In 2018, I was approached by the Mass Kalugin First Nation in southern Saskatchewan
Speaker 1: and they came to me and said they wanted to investigate on my grave sites atmos Calgon and at that, that time
Speaker 1: at that time, no one was speaking about this. Um, it was common knowledge in the communities across the country and to Kamloops Kuper Island in all these places, Miss Calgon, they all talked about it. Um, but amongst themselves are in, you know, small local media sometimes did stories on these things,
Speaker 1: but none of the national media picked up any had picked up any of it.
Speaker 1: And when Miss Calgon band Council came to me, um they had explained that erosion, soil erosion is beginning beginning to review some of the remains in these unmarked grave sites.
Speaker 1: So we set up a project to investigate and, and so it could be what could be done. We did archival research and discovered that the school had actually moved. And um on the advice of the others, 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 the
Speaker 1: um there was an acknowledgement by the indian asian of the MS Calgon area.
Speaker 1: Um, and there was, there was talk about a commemoration, but nothing was ever done and that was in the 60s.
Speaker 1: Um, so we did go there
Speaker 1: and based on, we had a town uh, a town hall meeting with the MS 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
Speaker 1: and
Speaker 1: returned again due to whether we had to return again with archaeologists from University of Saskatchewan and the University of Alberta.
Speaker 1: Um Terrence Clarke, when you versus Saskatchewan and keep the super net at the U. Of A.
Speaker 1: And um they broke ground penetrating radar
Speaker 1: And um we found 12 in one field, we found the evidence of 12 remains.
Speaker 1: Um
Speaker 1: and we made a documentary, a mini documentary on this um which I tried to make as available as I could. I brought it to the association. The they actually used to Quebec and give a presentation in french on the documentary about to the BC Museum Association. I posted on a website and contacted other um
Speaker 1: there uh
Speaker 1: galleries and media outlets and nobody responded. I even brought it to Mexico City for the International Council of Archives
Speaker 1: and there was almost, there was one article that came out from that from the Washington post
Speaker 1: um and nothing from Canada.
Speaker 1: That was 2018 wow. And so so Raymond, let me just ask you,
Speaker 1: why do you think that is?
Speaker 1: Why do you think there's no response,
Speaker 1: a lack of understanding of what the implications meant, 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.
Speaker 1: Um
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: Um although by then, I mean, at the same time, the TRC, by that time then, six years of investigations been published, its final report. I mean, this was barely 2.5 years after the final report got published in 2015. So,
Speaker 1: I mean,
Speaker 1: unfortunately, um media didn't pick it up and it didn't seem to catch the interest of,
Speaker 1: and maybe it speaks to the common understanding of the residential schools um
Speaker 1: in Canada and partly they're, I mean, they're still isn't um we've spoken with
Speaker 1: 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 curricula.
Speaker 1: So,
Speaker 1: Um I think there was a lack of understanding and maybe this is in 2021. Um there had been by that time enough
Speaker 1: um enough discussion and of conscious raising um enough study that people were ready to start to accept
Speaker 1: this reality. Um and that became in such a dramatic volume and so fast without learning,
Speaker 1: maybe that impact was also something significant
Speaker 1: Because to be honest, um in in less than a month and a half, I did over 40 interviews, national international
Speaker 1: um
Speaker 1: china Al Jazeera, um
Speaker 1: media outlets from Sweden holland Germany, the BBC, they just,
Speaker 1: everyone seemed to want to know about the new york times Washington post,
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: But
Speaker 1: Um nevertheless something somehow quick this time that didn't in 2018
Speaker 1: maybe it was just repeated efforts at education that finally started to
Speaker 1: to get some traction.
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: You know, you start owning up or you start saying, I know when I talk about some of the things that I saw and Miss Calvin is one of the places we played hockey against their hockey team
Speaker 1: 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. Cool.
Speaker 1: 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 as hot chocolate in those, those, you know, green plastic cups and it was such a welcome thing and we would sit with
Speaker 1: you know, our opponent if you will, the other hockey team
Speaker 1: and it just you know when I reflect on all of those
Speaker 1: times, so much later in life, I realize, you know what
Speaker 1: I was looking at them and saying how fortunate they were to have this hockey arena right here and all of these things
Speaker 1: 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 a scalpel and, and and they star informants and Gordon? It was part of where I grew up. So
Speaker 1: 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 mentally trying to de colonize a new institution because we are building a new archive
Speaker 1: from the ground up
Speaker 1: after the TRC published its final reports, they, they had, they were sitting on over four million documents, um, 7000, interviews, statements, um, maps, photographs, etcetera, um that weren't organized, um, that didn't have a preservation program,
Speaker 1: didn't have an access program.
Speaker 1: Um,
Speaker 1: they just didn't have any of the typical archival um
Speaker 1: methods and functions that you need to have
Speaker 1: 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 existed. And
Speaker 1: 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,
Speaker 1: but by not assigning, uh, someone with a really strong archival background and experience to oversee
Speaker 1: the preservation of those records as they came in. Um the acquisition to ensure that they're sorted um
Speaker 1: that they are understandable, that their formats are readable.
Speaker 1: Um
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: um accessible.
Speaker 1: But having said all that,
Speaker 1: those are traditional archival functions and what we want to do
Speaker 1: um
Speaker 1: is try to find the indigenous voice in these records um and to give that voice
Speaker 1: a priority to have indigenous communities lead
Speaker 1: the policies and how these records should be used in access
Speaker 1: 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 residential schools, the human resource files,
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: Um but if you read the daily the files themselves
Speaker 1: without putting them in that context,
Speaker 1: they are just banel administrative documents of school operations.
Speaker 1: Um So trying to bring an indigenous voice to all of that. Um in addition to making um
Speaker 1: 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 ass description access and preservation project.
Speaker 1: Um that that is to set up an IT infrastructure because the records were over 95% digital.
Speaker 1: So the first thing I recognized we had to do was to set up in I. T. Infrastructure that would allow for us to best manage these records from an I. T. Sense when we have that now. Um I was able to get uh Canada Foundation for Innovation Grant um
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: the access and preservation
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: uh understandable in a way that has meaning for colonial or for communities. Um and that the communities themselves take the lead
Speaker 1: in their access and use essentially to interrogate these records of oppression assimilation in in a new way.
Speaker 1: Um So we're looking at things like trying to
Speaker 1: build a participatory description applications so that communities can log in and write descriptions of photographs and documents that otherwise were described by
Speaker 1: 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, I kind of like to think of is that we're basically creating
Speaker 1: case files of Children. Um, you know the organizing principles that
Speaker 1: by which these records were created were actually the operations of schools.
Speaker 1: The organizing principles that we want to try to use are the lives of the Children.
Speaker 1: So um rather than having records of hospitalization, um school records, that kind of thing that are
Speaker 1: put into those administrative silos, we'd like to have
Speaker 1: a child as the organizing principle and in the records of all those other different
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: a virtual but still meaningful.
Speaker 1: So Raymond, I have two questions, one on on that. Is there a way that that you or your organization or um
Speaker 1: an organization will have the opportunity to actually apply the indigenous name to each child that is being discovered in these gravesites?
Speaker 1: That's an enormous question that we're still working on. One of the things we did. One of our first and largest projects was called the Missing Children's Project.
Speaker 1: 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 place them into a database. So when we when we when we inherited all those records, we had
Speaker 1: um several lists of pdf spreadsheets 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
Speaker 1: harvested off all of the pages
Speaker 1: to the to the result. That there was
Speaker 1: A 10 million name list. Um that was created of all the people that were found on all these, all these documents.
Speaker 1: So we're working with um Carson lee young who's a professor of computer science, made focusing on data mining
Speaker 1: and he's trying to write algorithms that will try to sort this list
Speaker 1: Down to what we know was approximately 150
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: So we have to try and sort out all of the
Speaker 1: sometimes deliberate, sometimes unintentional means that these names were removed. Sometimes the Children are only used only referenced by number.
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: So um
Speaker 1: 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,
Speaker 1: Which we did, we know have what we call a death register database which is based on cultural action 72 of the TC's final reports.
Speaker 1: And so that um that database profiles each child with 15 fields of information, gender named, original community original language.
Speaker 1: Um because often in the records that we found, um uh 50% of the time cause of death wasn't even recorded
Speaker 1: Um over 30% of the time, the gender of the of the student wasn't even recorded.
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: So in phase when we went through all of the records of the TRC and we also created a commemorative website
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: Um and ultimately it was just the name of the child, the date of death and the name of school.
Speaker 1: The rest of the records are now in the death register accessible only by special permission of the family.
Speaker 1: Um, but Phase two of the of this project, which is just now starting um and has been funded by Syria as was phase one
Speaker 1: Um will be the next year and a half. We will go through the rest of our almost five million records
Speaker 1: to guarantee that we have identified every piece of evidence we hold regarding the loss of a child.
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: the names um which is an enormous um question. I mean we will go back to families um and let them know that we discovered these, this this evidence
Speaker 1: and potentially in interviews and discussions and engagement. We might be able to get some more information on names.
Speaker 1: Um the naming project with doctor the young will also help us on that.
Speaker 1: And then
Speaker 1: our attention 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,
Speaker 1: but there would be a full blown project for this once we have a better understanding of the names.
Speaker 1: However, recent events occurred with quite unexpectedly and we're now we're now we're not doing both um
Speaker 1: which is a which is a
Speaker 1: um enormous resource challenge for us,
Speaker 1: but
Speaker 1: I mean it doesn't really do anything except just change the agenda a little bit.
Speaker 1: Um So to do that and we're actually to facilitate these investigations
Speaker 1: um
Speaker 1: which will be community led we're providing um and it's at the point of being released um
Speaker 1: a data repository for each community so that they can freely access and store
Speaker 1: research data as they're doing their investigations.
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: and they can store their data there as they're doing investigations.
Speaker 1: There will be um
Speaker 1: they'll be uh sort of an open source wiki style discussion uh that will be available as well for each community and they're all password protected by community. So
Speaker 1: um each of these repositories will serve a single community as they do the investigations.
Speaker 1: Having said all that. It's still more pieces to an enormous puzzle that I think will take
Speaker 1: generations to work on. Um Just to give you another example um I was recently speaking with luke marston who was the
Speaker 1: um the artist who created our bentwood box for the trc. Um And I was back it is um
Speaker 1: Cali bay on his reserve. This was just a couple of weeks ago actually
Speaker 1: and luke has just finished his master's degrees studying um a camel um the language
Speaker 1: and so I asked him actually the question you just asked me about names
Speaker 1: and luke and I were looking at maybe doing an article on
Speaker 1: 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?
Speaker 1: And he told me that
Speaker 1: in this program, the program's title of S. F. U.
Speaker 1: His professor
Speaker 1: um skip the idea of names because it's so complicated
Speaker 1: in the language instruction that she literally avoided
Speaker 1: studying it in depth because there's just so much
Speaker 1: That goes on in in those discussions. There's so many rules. Um and as he explained to me, it's quite common for people that have 10-15 names depending on the context of how they're using them.
Speaker 1: Um
Speaker 1: So how to bring that into,
Speaker 1: into a system that allows you to search for a name and find documents related to that name
Speaker 1: Um in a linear, it's not a linear 1-1
Speaker 1: scenario, which is a, you know, the database dream. But
Speaker 1: um it's so it's going to be, well, it's gonna be regional, it's gonna be contextual. Um And I think maybe
Speaker 1: um I mean I'm not an I. T. Expert but we are moving away from this kind of siloed archival model of
Speaker 1: describing a set of records and then moving on to the next step when in fact there's a matrix of relationships across all these records. So
Speaker 1: somehow we have to figure a way to capture that matrix of relationships
Speaker 1: that brings your names. I mean just even listening to you, Raymond to try to describe it.
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: Yeah. And fundamentally one of the cultural action that hasn't been referenced very often
Speaker 1: is the color to allow provincial governments to allow um 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 name. That's on those documents to the original indigenous names.
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: The three Commissioners that were involved in.
Speaker 1: Um I was the inaugural President Ceo of the Canadian Museum for Human rights and, and Willie as we call them Willy Wilton little child of course was a board member and also a commissioner along with Marie Wilson and Marie Sinclair.
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: And I guess the one thing that I might ask Raymond as we close this uh this incredible podcast down and I
Speaker 1: 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.
Speaker 1: But if I were to ask you from your perspective as you're as you're so heavily invested in this,
Speaker 1: 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,
Speaker 1: but we are also what we choose to forget
Speaker 1: and we're at a moment in time where we're making that choice
Speaker 1: and that's who we are, as Canadians to recognize and accept this fact that this is part of our history. Um um and acknowledgement is the first step to
Speaker 1: some form of a new reconciled relationship across center and indigenous communities.
Speaker 1: Um, and I mean everyone is talking today about resurgence of indigenous communities, not reconciliation.
Speaker 1: Um, but it's a, it's a long term goal that will as senators are as mary Sinclair has said,
Speaker 1: um you know, it took seven generations to deconstruct these communities and their their social relationships.
Speaker 1: It could take another seven generations to rebuild them.
Speaker 1: That that is for so many of us hard concept to even understand.
Speaker 1: You know, I I know that I've had a chance also to be at a turtle Lodge.
Speaker 1: It's such a wonderful spiritual place
Speaker 1: that it took me a while to understand that the notion of silence
Speaker 1: is sometimes more powerful than words
Speaker 1: and you know, that's a concept that again, I took me a while to sort of understand and I still struggle with it. But
Speaker 1: those are the kinds of opportunities that as you say, if you choose to remember and you you're interested and you want to learn
Speaker 1: what you're doing as head archivist of the National Center for Truth and reconciliation.
Speaker 1: Raymond is going to be something that is legacy building.
Speaker 1: And again, I've enjoyed the opportunity to meet with you, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your time.
Speaker 1: 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
Speaker 1: Well, and thank you for the opportunity to to bring out these discussions. Um this is what raises the consciousness of our nation. So thank you.
Speaker 1: Humans on Rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray. Social media marketing by the creative team at full Current and Winnipeg. Thanks also to trick seem a bit you in music by Doug Edmund.
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