Decision to destroy residential school documents draws criticism

By Bryan Eneas
October 10, 2017 - 8:00am Updated: October 10, 2017 - 8:41am

A recent Supreme Court decision has drawn the ire of Saskatchewan residential school survivors as well as the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN).

On Oct. 6, the Supreme Court of Canada allowed the government to destroy testimonies which contain information about abuses committed at the schools.

Survivor Tom Roberts organized a walk between the Prince Albert Grand Council buildings, the former site of the Prince Albert Indian Residential School, and Stanley Mission with a group of survivors in 2016.

“If they destroy those [records], our children’s, children’s, children, their grandchildren won’t even know what happened to our parents, our grandparents, what they went through,” Roberts said. “There still will be some records that will be available.”

Roberts worked with over 300 residential school survivors who were previously asked if they wanted their records destroyed. Many initially wanted them destroyed out of anger. He said they now are asking to preserve their stories for the benefit of future generations.

“It’s not an easy decision for them to decide, and here again, the government is saying ‘no, here’s what we’ll do for you,’” Roberts said. “In 15 years nobody will know what happened, except the ones that did the public hearings.”

Roberts said having physical copies of testimonies about residential school can also provide answers to the families of survivors who have passed on. Learning about what their family member went through can create an understanding about who the survivor was if they weren’t ready to open up to their family about what happened to them.

For Roberts, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission didn’t represent the end of the residential school saga in Canada.

“It is not over,” Roberts said. “The healing begins now for the people.”

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron also called for the preservation of records.

“This is a piece of work where, in 1,000 years people need to understand what First Nations people went through, endured through the residential school system,” Cameron said. “For [the government] to say ‘destroy all records,’ that’s none of their damn business. That’s First Nation experience, First Nation trauma.”


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