On the first day, after the introductions, the Performing Oralities group journeyed to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) where Raymond Frogner, head archivist gave a presentation on the NCTR archives. Frogner gave a brief history of Canadian residential schools, which the schools main goal was to rid the Indian from the child. Schools were underfunded, children suffered malnutrition and disease which led many to a young death. There is no accurate number of deaths, but it is an area that Frogner is researching. Through the findings, Frogner explained that there were multiple versions of children’s names which could have had an impact on the numbers. Some of the versions were the misspelling of the name, children using their mother’s name and their father’s name, and the loss of documentation or lack of documentation. The children also endured physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse while they were housed at the schools; their stories came out through their testimony.
As the room filled with intense listening, interests, and questions, testimonies were a focus of discussion. Testimonies were categorized in three groups: Public-public (given in public and shared with public), private-public (given in private and shared with public), private-private (given in private and not shared with public). Testimonies served different reasons, such as the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), research, and history. The IAP was a class action settlement suit against the government of Canada, the claimants were residential school survivors who forcibly attended the schools and in many cases, suffered all-levels of abuse.
The methodological approach of the testimonies was community-based and sharing circles were formed with 5 to 20 people. Each participant was allotted 20 minutes which they had the option of telling their story in their own language and bring in their own support member, such as family. The sessions were audio/visual recorded and transcribed and transferred for preservation. The testimonial process was based on ‘respect’ and everyone who spoke was given the respect while sharing their own story.
There is a danger arising and that is the destruction of the testimonies, which arguably raises a concerning question, will destroying the records mean erasing or forgetting a part of Canadian history?
Frogner ended the session with stating that there were 139 residential schools across Canada, and everyone has a different story.
By Melanie Belmore