By Siobhan Powlowski
The Coalition to Preserve Truth
The Coalition to Preserve Truth, which represents survivors and intergenerational survivors of the residential school system, has been granted leave to intervene in an upcoming Supreme Court of Canada case. Fontaine v. Attorney General of Canada will decide the future of the personal accounts of up to 38,000 residential school survivors. These testimonies were collected as part of the Independent Assessment Process (“IAP”), which was created by the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) to handle thousands of claims of physical and sexual abuse suffered during residential schools. The IAP records are presently set to be destroyed in 15 years.
Pacific Peoples’ Partnership is proud to have offered communications support to the Coalition to Preserve Truth, which is a broad alliance of Indigenous individuals, organizations and supporters. The Coalition recognizes the ongoing impact of intergenerational residential trauma in Indigenous communities and believes that the IAP records should be preserved while respecting individuals’ rights to privacy.
The Coalition has launched a #StandForTruth campaign to raise awareness about the pending destruction of the IAP documents. The Stand For Truth campaign has collected statements from Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members on the intergenerational impact of residential school trauma, as well as our collective responsibility as Canadians to safeguard truth. View the statements here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQm9B6LGh-0wCWQLnr0LTBw
The intergenerational effects of trauma on individuals, families and communities has been well studied. But the enormous personal trauma of residential school survivors, as well as the massive displacement of Indigenous children from their communities, has made it difficult for families of survivors to know the full extent of this trauma. As such, descendants of survivors often rely on second-hand accounts of residential schools, archives and historical records to understand the ongoing impact of residential schools.
The residential school record is already limited by systematic destruction of documents over the course of 160 years. Destruction of IAP records is arguably in line with a broader pattern of systematically erasing the truth of the residential school genocide. The permanent loss of tens of thousands of documents will further deny descendants of residential school survivors the opportunity to heal by removing their ability to develop a greater collective understanding of harms done to their communities.
“The profound impacts of residential schools are still rippling through our communities today and will continue for generations to come. We need to ensure that future generations can access specific knowledge about what led to their broken communities, fragmented families and loss of language and culture.”
-Carey Newman, founder of the Coalition and creator of the iconic Witness Blanket.
It doesn’t just matter what the Supreme Court decides – how the Supreme Court reaches a decision matters as well. The current proposal for managing the IAP records does not take into account the place of Indigenous legal orders, which are better equipped than Canadian institutions to manage the individual stories of residential school survivors. Indigenous legal orders provide ample space to reframe the question to consider the cultural, moral and spiritual elements at play in this case.
Both destruction and preservation of the records is problematic in that neither fully returns ownership of these stories to communities and people. The black or white decision offered by the Supreme Court of Canada does not allow for more nuanced conversations aligned with collective values, i.e., what are our obligations to future generations? How can we provide for survivor needs in a way that they feel safe to keep the information for future generations?
Canada has a long history of making decisions about Indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples, rather than with Indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples. Indigenous communities across Canada have rich and robust resources for managing situations like these, and the Coalition hopes that the Supreme Court of Canada will make space for the questions to be reframed so that Indigenous Legal Orders can be brought into the decision-making.
The residential school system was genocide. As Canadians, we have a collective responsibility to remember, honor and protect the truth.
How You Can Help
The Coalition to Preserve Truth has until May 25th to raise $50,000 to intervene in the Supreme Court of Canada. Donations are gratefully accepted at gofundme.com/standfortruth.
The responsibility is on each and every one of us to ensure all Canadians know about the pending destruction of these records. Start a dialogue in your community, or consider filming a #StandForTruth video. Videos are accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit standfortruth.ca