The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba officially opened this week. The first day of opening focused on the history of residential schools, reconciliation, and steps for the NCTR going forward. The second day of he opening emphasized education and included the launch of the NCTR website.
Work on the website is ongoing and materials collected by the TRC have just begun to be uploaded to the site. Currently video footage from TRC events and hearings are available and a limited selection of archival materials relating to residential schools has been placed online.
This material was all openly available prior to the launch of the NCTR. But it is now all aggregated on the new NCTR site and integrated into their collection. The national events and hearings were open to the public and some of them live-streamed.
The residential school archival material uploaded to the site is a bit more challenging in nature and is still a work in progress. I found the school narratives created by the Government of Canada that are linked to each school interesting. However these narratives are very analytical and impersonal. They are also include some errors (eg. the Spanish Girl’s School being labeled as St. Anne’s instead of St. Joseph’s).
The NCTR does note on that front page of these school narratives that:
“The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has not verified the content of this document. It is provided here for reference purposes only….You are welcome to contact the NCTR if you wish to add, comment on, or challenge any versions of the history presented herein.”
I was also struck by how each school’s page includes a “Featured Images” and “Related Material” section. The bulk of the Related Material is quarterly return and administrative records from Library and Archives Canada. This material was previously available via LAC and is well documented on the NCTR website with details around origin, dates of creation, author, etc.
Conversely, the featured images are not accompanied by any contextual information or metadata. The complex nature of residential school photography and ownership of these images that were often taken without active consent makes interpreting these images challenging. Providing contextual information is crucial to understanding this history. Ideally survivors and communities should be involved in how to describe, display, and share these images.
The NCTR has the potential to be an amazing resource for communities, educators, researchers and the general public. I know that the website is a work-in-progress but at a first glance I saw a few red flags that need to be addressed in the near future. However I do look forward to seeing how the NCTR’s digital access develops in the future.