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Order of Catholic nuns agrees to enhance access to residential school records

Last Updated Jun 23, 2021 at 2:44 pm MDT

VICTORIA — An order of Catholic nuns whose members taught at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia says it has reached an agreement to improve access to its private archival records.

The Sisters of St. Ann and Royal BC Museum say in a joint statement they have signed a memorandum of understanding to enhance access to the documents for both the museum and the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of B.C. 

It says the needs of the Indigenous community are at the centre of the records review process and the agreement will also make the documents accessible to the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, as requested. 

The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said last month that what are believed to be the remains of 215 children were found by ground-penetrating radar at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. 

The Sisters of St. Ann says on its website that its members taught at the residential school from 1890 to 1970 and they were also involved in three other residential schools.

The statement says it aims to make the residential school records, and associated records containing information about the Sisters of St. Ann’s involvement at residential schools, accessible to Indigenous communities with a goal of digital sharing. 

Sister Marie Zarowny, president and board chair of the Sisters of St. Ann, says in the statement that the nuns will contribute in any way possible for transparency, healing and reconciliation. 

“We affirm our commitment to collaborate in finding the truth and will assist in the process in whatever way we can,” Zarowny says.

The transfer to BC Archives, housed at the museum, of all records held by the Sisters of St. Ann Archives was originally scheduled to occur in 2027 and has been accelerated to 2025, when the Collections and Research Building opens, the statement says. 

The memorandum of understanding takes effect July 1 and will remain in place until the review, processing and transfer of records to the BC Archives is complete.  

Staff at BC Archives will work with the history and dialogue centre, as a “neutral third party,” to begin auditing the holdings next month, the statement says. 

The history and dialogue centre and National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will also work with the signatories to ensure transparency. 

“All archives from organizations that were involved with residential schools can play a role in the process of truth-finding and reconciliation,” says Daniel Muzyka, the museum’s board chair and acting CEO.  

Speeding access to the records for Indigenous communities is a positive step along that path, he added. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021. 

The Canadian Press