I have a sense that having the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation here at the University of Manitoba is a great opportunity for Winnipeggers and in my case, for educators, to access the profound history that has affected us all.
Not only do we witness the inter-generational effects of Indian Residential Schools in our day to day lives, we are all Treaty people who have had to bear the burdens as well as the “benefits” resulting from government policies in this country’s history.
On a sunny morning, I had the pleasure of meeting with Kaila Johnston, Community Engagement Coordinator at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, presently housed in Chancellor’s Hall, nestled along the Red River on the UoM’s Fort Garry Campus.
When asked what the symbol on the door of the NCTR represents, Kaila explained that when the centre has any sort of gathering they like to ask the guests what they see in the logo as it can be interpreted in a number of ways.
It was originally designed by an inter-generational survivor to take in both elements of the TRC’s old logo which was the seven sacred fires in the circle as well as some new symbolism. Surrounding the internal flame we have four sections, again to represent the four directions but you’ll also notice it is broken into pieces and that is to allow people to come into the circle as well as leave the circle.
The inside of the logo appears to be a flame, but when you take a closer look, it also looks like two birds. Could be doves, could be eagles. That is to represent the child and the parent left behind – as well as the survivor and the inter-generational survivor – the settler and the Indigenous peoples in Canada.
So there are a number of different meanings and a number of different ways people can interpret this logo which is really nice when we consider what the archives here holds as well as what the centre plans to do in the future.
On the lawn in front of the building, a large stone turtle installation is set into the landscape. Kaila said the turtle was used specifically because it represents truth in one of the sacred teachings.
The turtle is also facing east, the direction of new beginnings which is to serve as a reminder this is the truth and this is very important. We have to keep in mind it is a new beginning we are starting here at the centre.
Around the turtle there are several sections of coloured brick. This is to represent the four directions.
On the back of the turtle is a sacred pit that can be used when survivors visit the centre and they have tobacco they wish to offer, or if there’s any sort of ceremonies involving the centre or the documents.
Around the turtle as well as around the walkway, you’ll notice there are some plants. Those are some of the sacred medicines. There is sweetgrass planted along the outside. On the inside there is some cedar and sage.
Kaila and I met to discuss a presentation we will co-present at the Manitoba Teachers Society conference in October for the Council for Aboriginal Education in Manitoba (CAEM).
There are extensive new resources being developed on the NCTR website that will roll out in the fall. One of the features Kaila showed me is the interactive map of the Indian Residential Schools across Canada. The number of schools change as the user scrolls along the timeline.
Recently in Winnipeg, Robert Falcon Ouellette and Maeengan Linklater held a ceremony at the old Assiniboia Residential School to bless the private members bill which is for a national Indian Residential School Reconciliation Memorial Day. A living history continues at these sites.
Although the NCTR is a permanent archive for all curated materials related to Canada’s Residential School system, including hundreds of photos, thousands of hours of video, millions of government documents and church records, and 7,000 survivor statements gathered during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), the accessibility of this digital information is still being painstakingly organized and carefully monitored for public access.
Kaila said they hope to develop kiosks so that people may access many of the digital records at different sites. These may be permanently set up at friendship centres along with people to guide and support people with their searches.
The centre works with other technology experts on campus to develop innovations such as virtual reality and the oculus rift goggles. They are working with elders to develop holograms to answer a large number of possible questions.
As the TRC traveled across the country gathering survivors’ stories, in a traditionally carved Salish box, more than 1,300 objects were also collected, representing commitments to work toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
These artifacts are actually kept at the University of Manitoba School of Art building where they can be preserved in temperature and humidity controlled environments. There may be a day when a traveling museum will visit communities with these objects.
The main space at Chancellor’s Hall, however, does house a permanent collection from the TRC Bentwood Box. Kaila explained what are some of these artifacts.
This handmade photo album from Mackay Indian Residential School in The Pas was given by the sister-in-law of the former principal, her daughter, actually. It has photos dating back to 1925.
The record album pictured below is from the Portage Indian Residential School Glee Club.
This record was actually recorded on their way to Expo ’67. So they were able to sing at the Expo and were also raising money to sing for President Nixon in the United States.
The students of that school, those who are still alive today, actually get together on occasion and sing for different events.
The Portage Indian Residential School is still standing and you can go visit if you are so inclined. They are looking to develop that site for tours and information about the school.
Also included in this case is the broken blue and gold chalice given to the TRC by the United Church, purposely smashed to represent the broken relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the church.
A case that is not to be photographed holds a hand painted wooden turtle given by the Ontario Coroners Office to symbolize the relationship to take new steps in the search for information for the missing children and unmarked burial project.
There is a sacred rattle given to the Commissioners at one of the national events.
There is a silver hand outstretched in a sign of piece holding a blue marble symbolizing water and the connection between Aboriginal peoples, water and the protection of it.
The rabbit and seal fur dancing drum mitts were given by the artist at the Inuvik National event in 2011.
Also in this case is a bone and antler carving of goose and goslings. From the same region the next case holds an oil lamp.
The last case holds a healing shawl created for the Quebec event held in 2013. The beaded floral design moccasins were also give at the same national event.
I am grateful to Kaila Johnston for the tour of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. This is a house of stories, our stories on Turtle Island.