Since its move to Winnipeg under the current set of Commissioners in 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has had a succession of around fourteen archivists, managers, assistants, and volunteers whose work was dedicated in greatest part to the TRC’s archives. This past January I became the latest to resume the position of TRC Archivist. I had already been working for the TRC on a volunteer and part-time contract basis, and I welcomed the opportunity to develop my knowledge of archives in deepened commitment to the TRC and its goals, laid out in Schedule N of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
The “official” number of archives staff I’ve cited is somewhat misleading. Before budgetary restrictions began to affect the TRC’s operations, at most three TRC staff were engaged full time in archival work. The TRC’s archives are short of necessary staff. Yet the official figure fails to include several other employees of the TRC who work in close and crucial relation to the archives. This includes the entire statement gathering unit of the TRC, the research team, the legal counsel, and the executive director. It includes agents of the TRC’s primary contractors: Bronson Consulting, The History Group, MINISIS Inc., and Brechin Imaging. It also includes agents working for church entities, government departments, other archives, and other organizations that provide records and documents to the TRC.
One of the most rewarding parts of my position is working as a key team member with all of these parties. As the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the University of Manitoba prepare to inherit the TRC’s archives at the end of the Commission’s mandate in June 2015, I am also keeping in contact with key personnel there, including the NRCTR’s Director and my former boss at the TRC, Ry Moran.
The goal in Schedule N that most explicitly refers to recordkeeping and the creation of archives is to “identify sources and create as complete an historical record as possible” of the residential school system and legacy, and to preserve that record and make it accessible to everyone for use. Nevertheless, each day of work at the TRC teaches me that archivists are and must be involved in continually meeting other goals touched upon in Schedule N as well. These include active listening to people and their stories; cultivating public education about the colonial system of which residential schools were part; working to provide a holistic and culturally appropriate environment in which to continue research, dialogue, decolonization, and healing; fostering respect; and supporting the resurgence of Indigenous traditions and histories.
Sarah Gauntlett is a current student in the University of Manitoba Archival Studies M.A. programme.