Day School, Hospital and Colonizing Institution Records

Response to Broadview article

The information provided below provides context around some of the research and digitization work referred to in the Broadview article, “Day school survivors need access to United Church archives” and is specific to the work of The United Church of Canada Archives in Toronto, however the principles of supporting Indigenous access to records are reflected across all United Church of Canada’s archives.

Withholding records of colonizing institutions from Indigenous communities is inconsistent with the principles and practices of the church and the Archives.

The United Church of Canada Archives is not responsible for employment contract negotiations; therefore we cannot respond to reports of what was discussed during an offer of employment.

Day School Research

The archival researcher project was jointly proposed and overseen by the Archives and the Committee on Indigenous Justice as part of a three-phase response to the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Calls to Action (2015), with the express purpose of supporting requests for information from day school survivors.

Phase 1: Archives creates the Day School Research Guide

Phase 2: Researchers contracted to review the records identified in the research guide, identify relevant files, compose narrative timelines for as many day schools as possible and complete a report on The United Church of Canada’s (UCC) administration of Day Schools.

Phase 3: Digitize relevant material from the reviewed files (relevancy to day schools, hospitals or any other colonizing institutions operated by the UCC)

The archives is currently in Phase 3, sending materials for digitization.

Digitizing Archival Materials - Why does it take so long?

Broadview Magazine contacted the archives in June to ask about our current digitization timelines and we provided some detail on the complexity of the work, our status for hiring a contractor to facilitate the work and the projected timeline based on the TRC work. The writer did not include that information in their article and urged the church to act faster to digitize content. The information below is to provide some helpful context about what is involved in the work.

As experienced during the document production process for the TRC, preparing records for digitization – scanning fragile or oversized materials and applying information to digital records to facilitate quick retrieval – is complex work.

At present, the total count of archival textual records to review, (this includes bound volumes, ledgers, and unbound paper), is approximately 1,000,000 pages. This number is likely to increase as we continue to look and list material of relevance to Indigenous communities.

We are also reviewing relevant library material in our holdings of interest to Indigenous communities. This includes reviewing 345 books and pamphlets, a portion of which has already gone out for digitization.

The number of periodicals published by the church or its antecedent denominations that need to be reviewed is 65. These periodicals are of various volumes, issues and page lengths and include The Christian Guardian, The New Outlook and The Observer.

A portion of these records were reviewed as part of the Truth and Reconciliation work, however the scope for digitization during that project was specifically related to records holding information about residential schools. The current digitization project has a broader scope to capture a wider breadth of records documenting Indigenous – Church interactions.

We are continuously looking at ways to improve the speed of the project in Toronto, including outsourcing digitization and bringing in additional contractors.  The Bringing the Children Home group has authorized funding to facilitate this work across Regional Council Archives Network.

Responding to Requests from Survivors

The United Church of Canada Archives continues to respond to requests from Indian Residential Schools (IRS) and day school survivors across Canada. We do not require people to physically come to the archives. Responding and providing digital copies to survivors is and had been a priority for archives staff.

During the period of 2019-2022 we’ve responded to at least 169 remote requests from survivors and family members, communities and academics about records related to UCC Indian Residential Schools, day schools, missions, hospitals.  When we locate physical records to respond to requests, we scan and provide digital copies.  Since December 2020 for example, we’ve sent 1759 digital files out related to these requests.

Sharing Digitized Records with Communities

We are not waiting for all the digitization work to be complete before distributing copies. In 2016, the General Council Archivist travelled to Curve Lake First Nation’s Cultural Centre to bring physical and digital copies of images related to the day schools in the area.  As more digitized content is returned to us, we are providing hard drives to communities when they contact us.  Within the last year we have sent out more than 27,000 pages and 728 images to communities.

Our digitization process includes identifying Indigenous communities with connections to records we are scanning and cross-referencing with Anglicized community names used in older archival descriptions. This will allow us to proactively reach out to communities to share what comes back digitized.  This will also allow us to have conversations with communities about necessary changes to Archives policies around ownership, control, access and possession of such content with respect to knowledge or data sovereignty and research protocols.

Archives as Colonial Institutions

United Church of Canada Archivists, like professional archivists in any repository, are passionate about preserving information and providing it to the public. We acknowledge however that archives institutions are inherently colonial operations and through their policies and practices can uphold and reinforce colonial power and privilege. Archivists have an ethical obligation to provide access and do not engage in attempts to interpret whether information is ‘critical’ to the church and then act to obstruct that information.

Our team prioritizes responding to survivors and engages daily with the trauma of the church’s historical complicity with genocide, racism, abuse among other horrific legacies. We are acutely aware of the importance of providing access to any existing records of human rights violations, referred to in the UN Joinet-Orenlicher Principles (UNJOP) as the “The Right to Know”.  For many of us, it is a personal and professional frustration to be faced with gaps in records or witnessing the silence in existing records about the children and families dehumanized by these institutions knowing that settlement agreements ask for attendance documentation, continuing to unfairly put the burden of proof on survivors seeking reparations and justice.

These injustices motivate us to continue grappling with our personal and institutional responsibilities to address barriers to reconciliation within the profession (PDF, 6.5 MB).  Allies in this work remind us that addressing the many colonial biases and assumptions in recordkeeping and archival practice is long-term and we are committed to hearing from survivors, communities and our partners about how we can continue to improve supporting them.