Residential school records might be housed at Oblates archive in Rome

Residential school survivors, their families and all Canadians alike will soon have access to more records, some of which might be in Europe.

On Tuesday, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate announced further collaboration that will grant the NCTR full access to critical residential school records.

Certain historical documents — possibly letters composed by early Oblate missionaries to Oblate leaders in Rome or France — could be housed at the Oblate’s General House Archive in Rome. 

“At this point, no one has identified what specific materials might be relevant,” Father Ken Thorson, leader of the Oblates, said in a news release.

Thorson said that the Oblates’ Lacombe, Alta., post and Notre Dame du Cap leadership are working with the Oblate administration in Rome to find an appropriate third-party process to clarify if any such documentation resides there, as well as what information it might contain.

These types of records represent a significant component of the process that communities are currently undertaking to search former residential school sites. They may also help to better understand the historical context of unmarked graves. 

The Oblates operated and forced Indigenous children to attend 48 residential schools in Canada, some of which, including the former Brandon Indian Residential School, where unmarked graves have recently been identified.

Stephanie Scott, NCTR executive director, said further collaboration with the Oblates to make provide copies of records to NCTR to residential school survivors, their families and all Canadians is “a representation of true reconciliation.”

“This collaboration between the NCTR and the Oblates is the start of a path we are forging together through engagement, dialogue, and meaningful conversations,” Scott said.

Thorson echoed this sentiment on behalf of the Oblates, emphasizing their commitment to transparency in releasing materials that may lead to the identification of missing children or significant information related to residential schools. 

“The Oblates hope that any relevant files might contribute to a greater understanding of our shared history and contribute to the important work of reconciliation,” Thorson said.

The NCTR holds almost 7,000 survivor statements and more than five million records and Scott says the organization is committed “to finding all residential school records no matter where they are located or how long it takes.”

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