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.

NCTR committed to finding all residential school records

An undated photo of the Marieval residential school on Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. It was one of the 48 residential schools in Canada operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. (Collection générale de la Société historique de Saint-Boniface)

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

On Tuesday, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate announced further collaboration that will grant the Winnipeg-based centre 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Certain historical documents — possibly letters composed by early Oblate missionaries to Oblate leaders in Rome or France — could be housed at the Oblate's General House Archive in Rome, a Tuesday news release said.

"At this point, no one has identified what specific materials might be relevant," Father Ken Thorson, an Oblate leader in Canada, said in the release.

Leadership with the Oblates organizations OMI Lacombe Canada — whose members serve from Ontario to British Columbia and the Northwest Territories — and the Quebec-based Notre Dame du Cap are working with administration in Rome to find an appropriate third-party process to clarify whether any documentation resides there, as well as what information it might contain, Thorson said.

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

The Oblates operated 48 of the residential schools Indigenous students were forced to attend in Canada, including the Marieval school in Saskatchewan and the school in Kamloops, B.C., where unmarked graves have recently been identified. 

Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, said further collaboration with the Oblates to provide copies of records to the centre in order to make them available to survivors and their families 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 in the news release.

Thorson echoed that 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. The organization is committed "to finding all residential school records no matter where they are located or how long it takes," Scott said.