Indigenous

Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc chief cautiously optimistic about federal pledge to release residential school records

The chief of Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc says the release of more federal records on residential schools, promised by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, will help survivors resolve some of their unanswered questions.

Rosanne Casimir says releasing records 'crucial to the healing path forward'

Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir says the release of records will allow for healing for many of the survivors, who are getting older. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The chief of Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc says the release of more federal records on residential schools, promised by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, will help survivors resolve some of their unanswered questions.

"So many of our survivors are aging. They deserve peace, in their final resting years, to be truly believed," Rosanne Casimir told CBC Radio's The Current on Friday.

Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc made international headlines in May when it was one of the first First Nations to report the preliminary results of a search for unmarked graves. Approximately 200 potential burial sites have been identified at the Kamloops residential school using ground-penetrating radar.

Miller said earlier this week the federal government plans on releasing a "voluminous" amount of records to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) within the next 30 days. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Indigenous leaders in Kamloops in October that the federal government had turned over all of the records in its possession, a claim the NCTR disputed. 

Casimir said releasing records is "crucial to the healing path forward" given the recent discoveries of unmarked graves.

"I think having full access to these records and these documents … it's going to be providing families answers," said Casimir.

LISTEN to the full segment on The Current:

The federal government promised to release more residential school records. Some experts say the release of these documents is long overdue and vital to healing and reconciliation. We talk to Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir of Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation; and Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a law professor, former judge and the director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.

She expects the records to be "traumatizing in so many different levels," but said uncovering the truth of what happened at the schools will lead to healing.

Casimir was one of 13 delegates who were scheduled to attend a meeting with the Pope in mid-December, but that trip was postponed over COVID-19 concerns.

She said she plans on asking Pope Francis to visit her nation so he can hear stories directly from residential school survivors.

She is optimistic the Catholic Church will also release residential school records.

"All I can do is hope that those documents, those records are going to be released as well," said Casimir. 

"It's about the truth, and it's acknowledging the role of Catholic Church and of the deaths of the children that were placed in their care."

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said there needs to be a mandatory Indigenous archive in Canada so that people can study and better understand residential schools. (Submitted by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond)

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia, said there is a growing need to have an Indigenous archive.

"We do not have an Indigenous archive," Turpel-Lafond told The Current.

"That's a mandatory deposit that includes all of the records from the residential schools, especially from the largest denomination that ran them, the Catholic entities."

Turpel-Lafond, who is from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, said many of the announcements about releasing records so far have been vague.

She said she would like to see the Canadian government enact legislation that would force the Catholic Church to turn over records.

"It's been done in Ireland and elsewhere. It's the only way to get it done," said Turpel-Lafond.

"If they don't do it … I think we can say they're dragging their heels."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

with files from CBC Radio's The Current

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