This post is a follow-up to last week’s report on the TRC B.C. National event panel “Institutions of Memory” and discussion of the role of academic institutions in the process of reconciliation.

While Mike DeGagné, President and Vice-Chancellor of Nipissing University and former executive director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, acknowledged the university as an “academy of assimilation,” he argued that it was still well positioned to foster understanding among its students of the history and impact of the Indian Residential Schools. An example of how this is being done at Nipissing University is by making the book Speaking My Truth: Reflections on Reconciliation & Residential Schools available to all first-year students when they move into on-campus housing—not unlike a Gideon Bible in a motel bed-stand. However, as not everyone may feel compelled to read the book, the university must do even more; instead of just preaching to the choir, the goal is reaching everyone, including those who graduate from high school without ever having learned about the Indian Residential School System. An important second step, said DeGagné, is then making sure that the teachings and the truth of what happened are integrated into the curriculum, as well as taken outside of the university and back to communities.

Jonathan Dewar, director of the Shingwauk Residential School Centre (SRSC) and special advisor to the president for the Residential School Legacy at Algoma University, spoke at length about the value of doing just that.

At Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on what was once the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools property, there is now an education and visitor centre devoted to the research, collection, preservation, and display of the history of the residential school system. The SRSC is also the site of “Remember the Children: National Residential Schools Photo Identification Project,” an initiative between the centre and the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, which provides safe space for survivors to look through photos of their time at the schools and fill in the gaps in their memories in order to engage with the past and begin to move on from their trauma. The heartful and heartening discussion of projects and programming at the SRSC, and their role in supporting the healing journey of residential school survivors and families, was not only a reminder of the importance of having a National Research Centre (NRC), but provided a powerful and positive example for university involvement in the reconciliation process.

In particular, Dewar emphasized that commitment and guidance of community members were required in order to make the program a success. He also called attention to the reciprocal nature of the relationship between community and academia; while librarians and archivists cannot do the work that survivors do, survivors need the expertise of librarians and archivists, who can make materials like photos, records, and reports, accessible and thus transformative for individuals.

According to Shelley Sinclair, university archivist at the University of Manitoba, there are some 200 terabytes of materials for the NRC, including survivor testimonies and recordings of TRC events. And while the National Research Centre at the University of Manitoba will act as a central repository for a country-wide distributed research network (including a proposed site on UBC campus), it is also intended to be public, open to community input, and interactive. In order to achieve this, digitization of materials is not in of itself a solution, a means to an end, or a way of bypassing the need for involvement of librarians and their skills as information professionals. This was made clear by the panellists in response to a comment from the audience that questioned the need for a physical centre when technology could one day allow all materials to be put on an external hard-drive and sent out to individuals, putting the materials and documents of the residential school system into the hands of survivors. While having an institution charged with the ownership of school records may seem paternalistic, the panellists explained that stewardship is required in order to provide and apply a classification scheme or organization structure for easy retrieval of materials and a way for people to make sense of the wealth of information and materials available to them. Having a central repository also creates the possibility of interactivity by allowing community-generated contributions and annotations to be added to a document by an individual but then shared with everyone.

Interestingly, a follow-up question provided an additional criticism of digital technologies, but from a perspective that this time saw digitization as a threat rather than a quick fix to issues of access. One audience member worried that concepts like a research portal and online access to data were too individualistic, isolated from community, divorced from the tradition of sharing circles, and at odds with the holistic ways of knowing within Aboriginal communities. The question was not so much about finding materials, but rather how one could possibly take in all the data and derive wisdom from it.

Camille Callison, Indigenous Services librarian at the University of Manitoba, replied to the comment by first emphasizing that the NRC was only intended for materials related to the residential school system, and was not a repository of all Indigenous knowledge, community wisdom, or language materials. The centre would also not supplant or replace Elder teachings, experiential learning, or other channels of transmitting knowledge. Finally, she discussed best practices for Indigenous librarianship and knowledge stewardship and how they would apply to and inform the planning and work of the NRC, such as the need to seek direction from communities when developing protocols for access, and consider that intellectual property and copyright are inherently culturally determined values and concepts.

For more information on Indigenous information management, knowledge organization, and librarianship, see Xwi7xwa Library’s research guide. To read Speaking My Truth: Reflections on Reconciliation & Residential Schools, check out UBC Library’s holdings page or download the ebook and individual chapters for free online.

image of beeUBC Library and the United Way are proud to present the fourth annual Spelling Bee. UBC staff are invited to join this cross-campus team competition to raise awareness for the United Way. Assemble your best spellers (4-10 people) to compete for the United Way Cup of Victory. Your team will go head-to-head with others from various departments and units across campus.

If your team has what it takes to be this year’s ultimate UBC spellers, register by noon on November 12, 2013. For more information about this event or to register your team, contact Harry Young (604-822-3977 or harry.young@ubc.ca).

  • Date of Spelling Bee: November 13
  • Time: 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • Location: Golden Jubilee Room, Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (fourth floor)

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