Friday, October 28, 2011

Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s National Research Centre Forum

from the desk of
Genevieve Weber

Collections, Research
and Access Services

Royal BC Museu

The roles of archivists are numerous.  This fact is illustrated clearly when archival professionals from places as diverse as Rwanda, Bangladesh and Nunavut all gather in the same room to discuss their varied responsibilities. As Gary Mitchell, Provincial Archivist and Director: Collections, Research and Access Services at the Royal BC Museum says:

The staff at the BC Archives is committed to acquiring, preserving and making accessible the documentary heritage of British Columbia for our citizens and researchers around the world. The work of archivists is vital for ensuring accountability and for supporting understandings and interpretations of British Columbia through the management and retention of its personal, corporate and social memory. 
We embrace the challenges of new information technologies in our ongoing commitment as stewards to this invaluable legacy.  We pride ourselves on providing access to our archival records while balancing our custodial responsibilities of security, integrity, and authenticity.
As Canadians we are privileged to live in a country that believes strongly in the right of citizens to access information and knowledge, while protecting the privacy of individuals.   A recent example of this is evident in the plans of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada to create a National Research Centre.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has spent more than a decade working with survivors of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system, conducting interviews and providing a safe environment in which to explore the lasting effects of the system on our society.   The TRC has been leading community events to foster education and communication about the IRS legacy in our country, and working with the Government of Canada and the related church groups to gather documented forms of information.  All information gathered will be made available to the public, subject to privacy laws, and, when requested, respecting individuals’ wishes to keep their statements private. 

Part of the mandate of the TRC is to create a National Research Centre in which to store this collection of documents and statements, and to make the information accessible to all Canadians.  In March of this year, before I started work at the Royal BC Museum, I was privileged to attend the TRC National ResearchForum as a private citizen, joining hundreds of archivists, IRS survivors, and human rights advocates gathered to discuss the options the TRC has for this future centre.  Speakers were invited from all over the world to share their stories of rebuilding and information sharing after natural disasters, war, and human rights violations wiped out all documentation of groups of people or events. 

It would be impossible to select the most inspiring of the speakers, but here are a few that were memorable:

Ann Stevenson, Information Manager, Museum of Anthropology at UBC (MOA), Vancouver 

Close to home in Vancouver, BC, the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN) is an online tool supported by a Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant and housed at UBC. The four Co-Developers of the RRN are the Musqueam Indian Band, the Stó:lō Nation and Stó:lō Tribal Council, the U’mista Cultural Society, and the Museum of Anthropology and Laboratory of Archaeology at UBC,. The Royal BC Museum is one of a number of Founding Partner Institutions. It is an interactive and collaborative information sharing source, an innovative way for communities to choose what information is shared, and how it is shared.  Community members can add stories and material, allowing researchers a personal look into the historical and current culture, people, and activities of communities around BC. 

Freddy Mutanguha, Executive Director, Kigali GenocideMemorial, Rwanda 

First opening its doors on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the Kigali Genocide Memorial acts as a museum and archives of the war in Rwanda, as well as a place of healing for the survivors.  Mutanguha is a young man of great passion, and as a survivor himself, the impact of accessing information about the events that took place in Rwanda and the effects of hearing the stories of others involved is obvious to his listeners.  

Catherine Kennedy, Executive Director, South African HistoryArchive (SAHA), South Africa 
Formed to confront the difficulties South African citizens had in accessing information about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission conducted in 1995 after the abolition of the apartheid system, SAHA works to move information out of the archive and into schools and communities.  SAHA also acts as an advocate for better Freedom of Information policies in South Africa.  

Mofidul Hoque, Trustee and Secretary, Liberation War Museum, Bangladesh
The Liberation War Museum commemorates the struggle for independence in Bangladesh.  As there is a lack of documentation about the war in 1971, part of the museum’s educational program includes encouraging children and youth to interview family members about their experiences and donate the results to the museum.  Their mobile bus exhibit is proof that community outreach is possible on an extremely limited budget. 

Madeleine Redfern, Mayor of Iqaluit, former Executive Director Qikiqtani Truth Commission

Redfern spoke of the importance of documenting both sides of the story: many of the events that took place in the north throughout our country’s history are recorded from the perspective of the colonists.  The opportunity to speak and hear the Inuit version of the past led to greater understanding and, often, a sense of reconciliation and peace amongst the people interviewed.  Having all versions presented together leads to greater knowledge for future generations. 

After three days of information sharing, advice, and relationship building at the National Research Centre Forum, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission now has the task of compiling the knowledge gained and making some tough decisions: Where will the National Research Centre be located?  Will it be a physical space only, designed in the traditional style of museums and archives?  Or will a large component be virtual?  Perhaps a mobile archive will be included?  Whatever the outcome, the important thing is that the information will be made available to all Canadians, allowing this crucial part of our country’s history to be learned and understood.