A new research centre on residential schools, to be based in Winnipeg, will preserve a national memory of what happened to aboriginal children who attended the schools, says the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The commission and the University of Manitoba will sign an agreement on Friday, which is National Aboriginal Day, to mark the establishment of the new research centre.

Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair, who chairs the commission, says the research centre is important because it will give all Canadians an opportunity to learn about the residential schools experience.

"That is important for us, and I think it's also important for the aboriginal community because it's a way for us to ensure that we have a national memory around residential schools," he told CBC News on Thursday.

The signing ceremony will take place at 10:30 a.m. on the University of Manitoba campus.

The residential school system, which ran from the 1870s until the 1990s, saw about 150,000 aboriginal children taken from their families and sent to church-run schools under a deliberate policy of "civilizing" First Nations. Many students reported physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the schools.

Established in 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission aims to collect and curate a comprehensive historical record of the history and legacy of residential schools across Canada.

The commission has been holding hearings in communities across the country. The material that is being gathered will be housed at the Winnipeg research centre, according to officials.

Continuing disparity

The creation of the research centre comes on the heels of several recent cases highlighting the continuing disparity between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

A report issued earlier this week noted that half of status First Nations children in Canada live in poverty, triple that of non-indigenous children.

In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 62 and 64 per cent of status First Nations children were living below the poverty line, compared with 15 and 16 per cent among non-indigenous children in the provinces, according to the report.

Last week, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Clifford Kokopenace, who was convicted of manslaughter, because the provincial government violated his rights by failing to ensure aboriginal people were properly represented on the jury.

Sinclair said the Ontario court ruling is significant. 

"We are required — not only by practice and protocol, but also by law — to ensure that juries that are established in our justice system are fairly representative of the community where the trial is being held," he said.