Why has it been so difficult to obtain past residential school records?

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The discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan has sparked calls for the Catholic Church, which ran dozens of the facilities across the country, to divulge its records. The Cowessess First Nation stated last week that 751 unmarked graves had been discovered at the former Marieval Indian Residential School. Meanwhile, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced last month that a preliminary scan near the former Kamloops residential school revealed the bones of an estimated 215 children could be buried there.

Following the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, a deal reached with former students, legal counsel for churches, the Assembly of First Nations, other Indigenous organizations, and the federal government, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in 2007.  The TRC was tasked with investigating and compiling as complete a history of the residential school system as possible into a single collection.

According to Ry Moran, founding director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at the University of Manitoba, organizations engaged in the schools were required to “collect and produce all relevant records.” Those records were then to be transferred to the NCTR, which is to serve as their permanent repository.