Residential school survivors should decide fate of documents: FSIN

Residential school survivors must be consulted further before any decisions are made about their testimony and records, says the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

Supreme Court hears diverse opinions on documents from Independent Assessment Process

Residential school survivors must be consulted further about their records before any decisions are made, says Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief Heather Bear. (CBC News)

The Supreme Court should not be deciding the fate of tens of thousands of residential school records, says Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-chief Heather Bear.

That decision should be left to the tens of thousands of survivors who told their stories, she said.

"There's different opinions and we need to sort that out and make sure that we have a view there, a collective view," on what to do with the records, Bear said.

The Supreme Court heard submissions Thursday from lawyers on all sides of the debate. Some want the records destroyed to protect the privacy of the survivors. Others want them preserved as a vital piece of Canadian history. Suggestions on redacting names or imposing a decade or more delay were made.

There have also been proposals to notify all 35,000 survivors or their families to obtain consent.

Saskatchewan First Nations leaders are calling for a meeting between the federal government, First Nations leaders and survivor groups.

Bear says they hope to achieve an agreement based on the wishes of the survivors but the only thing that's clear is that there is no consensus, she said.

She said to make a decision without fully exploring the issue with survivor groups first would be unjust.

"Would the destruction of the records sanitize the Indian residential school history on abuses? And of course, there's other survivors who want to put an end to this and would like to have them destroyed," she said.

Bear, who attended residential school in Lebret, said Saskatchewan chiefs passed a resolution last week calling for the national meeting. They want the meeting to take place in the next week or two.

More than 7,000 survivors testified publicly at nation-wide events held by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The retention of those accounts is not in doubt.

What is at stake are the 35,000 accounts given to adjudicators for the Independent Assessment Process, which was part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The IAP hearings were set up to determine individual compensation.

Nearly all of those cases have been concluded, with more than $3 billion paid to survivors in recognition of the social, cultural, physical and sexual damages.

The IAP hearings were confidential, but many are pushing for the records to be kept for their historic value.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement the stories and testimony belong to the individual, and any decision "must ensure that the privacy interests of IAP claimants and former students are protected at all times."