Members of a residential school survivors association called for the names of an Anglican official, his wife and former school staff members to be removed from a memorial list of children who died at the institutions, after discovering their inclusion last week.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) unveiled the National Residential School Student Death Register last September during a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. About 2,800 names were inscribed on a crimson banner unfurled during the ceremony and the list released online.
At least four of the names on the list were not of students. The names, all associated with the Shingwauk residential school in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., were of the Anglican archdeacon Gowen Gilmor, his wife Sarah Fauquier, and staff members Helena and Seymour Hayes.
Irene Barbeau, one of the founders and vice-president of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, said the association only found out about the mistake last Thursday during the association’s weekly teleconferences.
“We were so disgusted; we were mortified,” said Barbeau.
“What the heck is going on here? Who put their names on there? Who vetted the names to go on there? For all we know, there are perpetrators that are on the list.
“We said it has to be fixed…. Obviously the method of selection was not very good and done wishy-washy.”
At least 150,000 children attended residential schools during the institutions’ over century-long existence. It’s estimated that at least between 4,000 and 6,000 children died at the schools, but the true number may never be known as a result of incomplete and destroyed records. Many of the children are buried in unmarked graves.
The NCTR was created as a repository for residential school archival history and holds the records gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission was established as a result of the multi-billion dollar Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement finalized in 2007, which also established a compensation process for survivors.
Ry Moran, director of the NCTR, which is based in Winnipeg, said the names were removed from the online registry on Tuesday evening after CBC News contacted the centre over the Shingwauk association’s concerns.
“In some ways, it’s not entirely unexpected given the complexity of the work and the volume of the material,” said Moran.
Moran said researchers sift through thousands of records while looking for sometimes small annotations indicating the death of a student. Moran said many of the records are incomplete and mention a death only in passing reference.
Moran said the centre has already had to update several entries to the registry because the first and last names were reversed. Community information has also led to the addition of at least 30 new names to the list, which Moran said was still evolving.
Moran said survivors are key to ensuring the accuracy of the list and he hopes others come forward if they have any concerns about the contents of the registry.
“Our standard process is, if a concern is raised by a survivor we would take that record down and conduct a review,” he said.
“Survivors are entirely essential in this process and we adopted a very community-driven approach…. We believe that survivors are the best source of information.”
Preparing for eventual monument
Moran said the list of names on the crimson banner unfurled during the ceremony last September symbolized an important step in the process but does not represent the definitive list which is continually updated on the centre’s website.
Moran said the centre is preparing to begin a comprehensive review of all the records — there over a million that haven’t been analyzed — to create as close to a definitive list as possible of the children who died in the institutions for eventual engraving on a monument in Ottawa.
“When we think of something as comprehensive as a national memorial for Ottawa, it is really important that we have left no stone unturned and we have absolute confidence,” he said.
The NCTR is working with officials with the federal department of Crown-Indigenous Relations to launch the project, which could take two-and-a-half years to complete. The centre is also working with the department to launch a second project to identify all the unmarked grave sites where students were buried.
Moran said the centre is also still pushing the federal government to live up to its commitment and release all its updated histories on residential schools — known as school narratives — that have been built by the discovery of new documents and survivor testimony through the residential schools compensation process.
“These additional sources of information will not only make the work of the NCTR easier, but the collective goal of honouring and remembering these children,” said Moran.
“It is exactly situations like this that tells us more information is better.”