Partnership will digitize, preserve over 7,000 statements from residential school survivors

A new partnership between the National Film Board and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will help to preserve the content that was recorded the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Deal will help to preserve 1,500 hours worth of content from Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg was created to preserve the history and legacy of Canada's residential school system. Its audiovisual records are being standardized by the National Film Board. (CBC)

A new partnership between the National Film Board (NFB) and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) will ensure that thousands of residential school survivors' voices from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are preserved for future generations.

The partnership, which was announced on Wednesday, will see the NFB preserve close to 7,000 individual statements from the NCTR's vast audio and visual records, which contains more than 1,500 hours of content.

"I think it's really important that people have access. Fifty years from now, people will listen to the stories of what the survivors went through … And again, it's the ongoing message of what happened," said Garnet Angeconeb.

Angeconeb is Anishinaabe from Lac Seul First Nation and attended the Pelican Lake Indian Residential School from 1963 to 1969.

Garnet Angeconeb is a residential school survivor and long-time social justice advocate who received the Order of Canada in 2013. He said the new partnership will help to preserve the voice and stories of residential school survivors for generations to come. (Submitted by Garnet Angeconeb)

He is a member of the NCTR's Survivors Circle, a group of residential school survivors that helps to guide the centre's direction, and said there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to educating Canadians about the tragedies that took place during the residential school era.

"It's really about empowering the voice of residential school survivors. And a voice that will be heard as a record of our history," said Angeconeb.

Raymond Frogner, head of archives for the NCTR, said that much of the content being transferred was captured on a wide range of recording devices throughout the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and this process will allow for it to be housed in a safe, high-quality, standardized format.

"It's like extremely valuable home movies," said Frogner. "So for that reason, we need to make sure that it's preserved in the best possible manner that we can."

The audiovisual recordings include content from sharing circles, commissioner panels and survivors' public and private statements about their residential school experiences.

Frogner said the process will include better data tracking — including the types of session, locations, timestamps and names — which will make it easier for people to find information.

"We're trying to index by speaker within the recordings so that people can go straight to that person in that session, because some of the sessions were several hours in length," said Frogner. 

'Unique crossroads'

J'net Ayayqwayaksheelth, the Director of Indigenous Relations and Community Engagement at the NFB, said that the records will give the public access to the truth of what happened at residential schools across Canada.

"We're at a unique crossroads in history where a page is turning very slowly, and capturing this testimony is like that same historical threshold that I'm sure Germany was when the Holocaust ended," said Ayayqwayaksheelth.

"We're going to have a lot of difficult truths to really unpack as a society, and this testimonial digitized record will help us never forget or let this type of genocide happen again in this country or anywhere else." 

As a former trauma counsellor, Ayayqwayaksheelth said that it will be emotionally difficult work for the people who are transferring the sensitive audio and visual recordings, and that the NFB will be doing customary and wrap-around care for its employees. 

The NCTR said in a press release that "standard protocols of public, redacted and restricted records will still apply as part of this process, as respecting the privacy of Survivors remains paramount."

The process is expected to be finished in approximately two years.


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