The lighting of a sacred fire and a procession of dignitaries, including some residential school survivors, helped launch the grand opening of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg on Tuesday.
The centre, located in Chancellor's Hall at the University of Manitoba, is the permanent archive for all curated materials related to Canada's Residential School system, including hundreds of photos, thousands of hours of video, millions of government documents and church records, and 7,000 survivor statements gathered during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).
It will also support ongoing research into all of the information obtained by the TRC and will be home to the Bentwood Box, containing everything from a broken brick from a demolished residential school to a hockey jersey, star blankets, a Saskatoon police hat and a miniature birch bark canoe as an expression of reconciliation.
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Director Ry Moran said the centre will ensure the experiences of residential school children are fully understood.
"It's one of the most important things that's happening in this country right now as a matter of fact — how we come to terms with this history that we've had in this country, how we do this and how we turn the corner as a country," he said. "It's so critically important."
The grand opening ceremonies will take place over two days, and a full schedule of events is available online.
My beautiful mother Sadie,former IRS student to present her story Nov4 re National Centre for Truth n Reconciliation pic.twitter.com/zjqwTJd8Jk— @shenorthwilson
Tuesday recognized survivors and honoured the process of reconciliation, including the long history of events that took place in order for the NCTR to become a reality and discussions about what the future of reconciliation will look like.
Residential school survivor Eugene Arcand spent 11 years at a residential school in Duck Lake, Sask.
He said he's struggled with a legacy of abuse his entire life.
"You are stripped of all your dignity as a child – your language, your culture," he said. "Every day is a threat."
His story is now among five million digital documents, documenting the legacy of residential schools.
"We can share it with all Canadians and provide a level of public education and understanding. There are reasons for the social ills that affect my community," he said.
On Wednesday, the archives will be made available online, and grand-opening ceremonies will focus on education.
As well, more than 1,700 students and 350 teachers from across Manitoba will gather at the RBC Convention Centre to take part in workshops.
Phil Fontaine addresses own children during event
Former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine spoke at Tuesday's events, at one point apologizing to his children for the way he dealt with the pain that came from being a residential school survivor.
"Friends, you just never know. You wouldn't know, but you can just imagine. Among other things in my life, I was a terrible drunk – the worst imaginable drunk that ever walked the earth," he said. "That I would [pain] my family the way that I did and unfairly and unnecessarily … may I ask further forgiveness for that, for me."
His children, who were in the audience, stood up and hugged him to applause from the audience.