National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation opens at the University of Manitoba
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at the University of Manitoba opened its doors to the public on November 3, providing Canadians access to its innovative and progressive archive to foster reconciliation. Opening activities continued on November 4 with an event focused on education hosted at the RBC Convention Centre.
Ceremonies began outside Chancellor’s Hall, home of the Centre, when 200 community members watched as the sacred fire was lit.
“This fire,” Elder Carl Stone says, “burns for the people we’re thinking about.”
“It is our responsibility to ensure their voices are heard,” Elder Harry Bone later said.
Housed at the University of Manitoba, the NCTR has the largest collection of curated materials on the Residential School system in Canada. The Centre also plays an active role in the process of reconciliation, providing a safe, respectful and trustworthy space for Survivors and their families to gain access to records and collect information about their history.
“Our purpose is not only about documenting the past,” says Ry Moran, NCTR’s Director. “We’re honouring the wishes of Survivors by educating the public on this chapter in Canadian history. By encouraging all Canadians to embrace this history, we hope to create a common ground to build a stronger foundation for Indigenous communities in Canada.”
After the sacred fire was lit an honour song and prayer were offered, during which Elder Stone said an eagle was seen flying overheard. “A sign that things will be taken care of,” he said.
When the fire ceremony concluded, delegates and guests proceeded to University Centre to hear powerful speeches from Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Chair Justice Murray Sinclair and Commissioner Dr. Marie Wilson.
Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was honoured in a special ceremony, marking 25 years since he first spoke on national television about his experience of abuse at a Residential School and pressed the importance of reconciliation in Canada. (“We wanted to say thank you to Phil,” said Moran.)
When Fontaine addressed the crowd he first offered an emotional apology to his children.
“I stand here before you the sum of all my experiences, good and bad. Many tough experiences. Sadly for me, and more sadly for my son and daughter, they were part of the experience that I brought with me from my 10 years at Residential School. And that I would pain them in the way that I did, unfairly and unnecessarily so. So I ask you to bear witness as I appeal to Mike and Maya for their forgiveness.”
This burden, and many others Fontaine addressed this day, was removed from him in a smudging ceremony as an eagle feather fanned his troubles off him and back to the Creator.
Fontaine was then given new moccasins and wrapped in a blanket, so he can walk lighter and better, Elder Stone said.
“The opening events of the NCTR are all steps in the long journey of reconciliation,” says David T. Barnard, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manitoba. “This centre will ensure that the voices of the thousands of Survivors who bravely shared their testimony with the TRC will continue to inspire Canadians to strive for a better future. By recognizing some of our greatest failings as a country we have the ability to create a society where all peoples – Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike – live in a country based on mutual respect and shared understanding.”
Fontaine, also shared kind words towards Barnard.
“I want to thank Dr. David Barnard. He’s a good man. A decent human being. Big hearted. Most incredibly generous person. The apology in Halifax was just so important to us. So I thank you Dr. Barnard.”
Meanwhile, outside Chancellor’s Hall, Trevor Stevens stood alone in the cold rain, adding wood to the sacred fire so it can burn throughout the day and into the night. The former U of M student did not grow up traditionally, but he said he is beginning to reconnect to his culture. He said it is an honour to contribute to the Centre by tending the fire.
“The work of this Centre is paramount because it teaches all Canadians about their past and lays the groundwork for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living in Canada to work cooperatively for a brighter future,” said Justice Sinclair. “The Centre can be a hub for the reconciliation process in Canada.”
The NCTR is a cornerstone of the U of M’s $500-million Front and Centre comprehensive fundraising campaign: the university is committed to ensuring that Manitoba becomes a centre of excellence for Indigenous achievement – leading to increased social, economic, and health outcomes for individuals, communities and all Canadians.