Many people have been learning more about Canada's devastating treatment of Indigenous people in recent days, but for one archivist, what remains unknown is the most difficult part.

Raymond Frogner is the Lead Archivist for the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) and works daily with the collected information. June is Indigenous History Month, but for Frogner and Canada, history is not in the past.

"Fundamentally, this kind of acknowledgement is necessary for the nation. It is long past time to recognize that the colonial history of residential schools is an intimate component of Canada's history. It is part of our identity. It is part of who we are. It should be acknowledged fully and in a wholesome manner," Frogner says. 

The archivist says "we are what we choose to remember, but we are also what we choose to forget."

Raymond Frogner works for the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation, which is located in Winnipeg. Raymond Frogner works for the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation, which is located in Winnipeg. (Supplied)

While he has these records, the archivist knows there is a lot more information that is not there. In the documents he does have, things such as gender and cause of death are often not recorded.

"It is a demonstration of lack of concern and prioritizations."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) says at least 3,213 children are reported to have died at the schools but says this is a conservative estimate due to poor record-keeping.

"It is known that across the country in the residential school settlement agreement, there are 139 schools, in each and every one of these schools has in some way or another an informal way of dealing with the death of Indigenous children."

61 Academy Road is the current location of the RCMP's Canadian Centre for Child Protection. 61 Academy Road is the current location of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. (Google Maps)

Another issue he is facing is knowing there are many records that have not yet made their way through the NCTR's doors.

While the TRC)'s 94 Calls to Action did call on churches to release residential school records, Frogner says they have not done so. The six years of waiting speaks volumes for Frogner.

"Not every religious order's archives sent everything that they were supposed to have sent to use," Frogner says.

He says negotiations to collect the documents continue to be ongoing.

For the five million records he does have, Frogner says that is not the entire story.

"Essentially, the principal cause of death has always thought to be disease, or Tuberculosis in particular, but essentially, it was a lack of concern. It was a lack of care for the children. It was malnourishment, lack of health care, poor housing and shelter. It was a lack of resources that were given to take care of these children that were really the greatest danger to them."

Because of the disturbing history that researchers and archivists see going through these records, the NCTR has a crisis line and a spiritual guide.

"I am quite certain that we are the only public archives in the country that actually has a spiritual guide available for researchers to speak to and for staff to speak to when they do feel troubled by the work they are doing."

He says wellbeing is key when facing the truths of residential schools.

Frogner says to learn more about residential schools and the impact Indigenous people continue to face by starting with the TRC's final reports.

"They are very thorough and very detailed. Volume Four of the final report is the record of unmarked gravesites and lost children."

Frogner says this is a time of mourning.

After last week's discovery of the bodies of 215 children who were buried at Kamloops Residental School, there have been calls to search other sites, including the TRC who has asked $1.5 million in funding to do this in 2009 but was denied by the federal government.

"It is only some of the research and records that exist in our voluminous archive of history. The Truth will continue to be revealed, it will be unsettling, and it will be released always with ceremony to guide us," the NCTR says in a statement.

Frogner says if reconciliation is possible, acknowledgement and understanding need to come first. 


The NCTR residential school crisis line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419 for those looking to access emotional supports and crisis referrals.