WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government signed an agreement Monday to provide greater access to the death certificates of Indigenous children who died at residential schools.
The agreement allows the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to request the documents from the provincial Vital Statistics Branch. Until now, the documents were available to family members, while researchers and others needed to obtain special permission for any given document.
"This is very important in that the records that will be handed over will be a way to get at the truth — the real truth as to what happened to our people," Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said Monday at a signing ceremony at the legislature.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools over a century in Canada. The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated in its report eight years ago that about 6,000 Indigenous children died while being forced to attend the church-run, federally funded institutions.
The head of archives at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation said piecing together information from different governments, churches and the collections of individuals such as former school staff is a challenge.
"It's a jigsaw puzzle," Raymond Frogner said.
"To date, we've addressed this question by visiting over 150 different repositories … to try to piece together the various operational administrative records of the schools."
The centre is still working on getting access to coroners' reports, he added.
Government Services Minister James Teitsma said the agreement responds to one of the calls to action in the report from the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The Manitoba government has also examined the idea of declaring a statutory holiday for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, otherwise known as Orange Shirt Day, every Sept. 30.
The government first discussed the idea more than a year ago, and continues to consult with Indigenous leaders and others on what type of programming or events should be held to mark the day.
"There's a lot of options and a lot of suggestions, but we've got to find the right one for Manitoba," said Eileen Clarke, the minister for Indigenous reconciliation.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2023.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press