A new online resource is being launched to help residential school survivors find information about compensation, unmarked gravesites and other issues.
It comes as a Canadian delegation of survivors and Catholic bishops prepares to visit Pope Francis at the Vatican this month and follows news this week that federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller has pledged to release more documents.
The new web portal, which is to be available starting on Tuesday, is a project of the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre in Vancouver.
The centre’s academic director, former Saskatchewan judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, says she hopes it will keep everyone focused on the rights and needs of survivors. That includes the need for full record disclosure and compensation.
“This is a very important moment in Canadian history, and this collection is important,” she said. “There needs to be accurate, publicly accessible, transparent information.”
The portal includes detailed timelines of the landmark 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the Catholic Church’s court case against the federal government. In that case, a Saskatchewan judge approved a controversial $1.2 million buyout of the church’s remaining financial commitments to survivors. The federal government appealed the decision but then dropped the challenge before it got to court.
Many of the documents were unearthed over the summer during a CBC News investigation. Others are gleaned from papers written by former Truth and Reconciliation Commission counsel Tom McMahon and others.
Turpel-Lafond, a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in central Saskatchewan, said the new web portal is only a partial record. She says the Catholic Church and federal government are still withholding documents.
“We just urge the federal government and the Catholic entities to have full transparency. This has to come out,” she said. The site invites further document submissions from survivors and the public.
Miller, in an interview with The Canadian Press, promised this week to release more documents and said that could happen in the next month or two.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations issued a news release on Monday evening saying Miller’s promise is a good “first step” but that the promised documents form only a small minority of those still being kept from survivors.
The delegation from Canada is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican later this month, provided there is no change in travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 omicron variant.
The group is expected to request that Francis come to Canada to issue a long-awaited apology for the church’s central role in the residential school system. Most survivors interviewed recently by CBC News say the apology is important but can only come with full compensation and document disclosure.