Friday, 5 August 2016

AMA Conference 2016 Keynote Interview: Ry Moran, Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established as part of a settlement agreement between the Government of Canada and survivors of the Indian Residential School System. Through the work of the TRC, many Canadians have now been able to learn more about this dark period of Canada’s history and the lasting impacts it has on our country and its people today.

Also part of the settlement, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) was created as a depository for the information and records gathered through the work of the Commission. The NCTR, housed at the University of Manitoba, carries on the work of the TRC by continuing to share the history of residential schools and create a foundation for reconciliation through truth.

Ry Moran is Director of the NCTR. Through his work with the TRC, Ry was responsible for gathering the history of the residential school system from more than twenty government departments and nearly 100 church archives - millions of records in all. As a prelude to his upcoming keynote address and session at the AMA Conference, Miranda Jimmy, Program Manager at the Edmonton Heritage Council and Co-Founder of RISE – Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton, met with Ry to learn more about the NCTR and the place for museums in the reconciliation process.

Miranda Jimmy: How did you become involved with the work of the TRC?

Ry Moran: I started talking to the first Commission after attending a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2008. When that Commission ended, I picked up the conversation with the second Commission. Initially, I bid on the TRC’s Request for Proposals for statement gathering through the business I was running. They contacted me later through their recruiting firm, Higgins International, and the next thing I knew I was being interviewed in Winnipeg. That was early January 2010, and by late January I was working for the Commission. I fully relocated to Winnipeg in March of 2010, but all of my stuff showed up right in the middle of the first national event.

MJ: While working through the mandate of the TRC, what were your biggest challenges?

RM: It was emotional work – on a regular basis, you heard terrible stories of abuse. In that, you had to provide support, kindness, and empathy to everyone involved – even when my own tank was running on empty.  You had to dig deep. The work was complicated, and it involved many uncertainties and roadblocks. Document collection was extremely complicated, and we were in court on a number of occasions. We were quite a small team, but we had a tremendous amount of responsibility. There was a lot of work and the hours were intense – at a national event, it wasn’t uncommon to work sixteen to twenty hours in a day.

MJ: How do you describe the work of the NCTR?

RM: It is an amazing entity that is emerging on the national landscape. We have a lot of responsibility as well – not just to preserve the records collected by the TRC, but also to honour the reasons they were collected, to fuel new approaches to education and understanding, to share this history with Canada, to ensure ongoing research can occur, and, most importantly, to ensure survivors, Indigenous peoples, and communities are central in the work of the NCTR.

MJ: What are some lessons you have learned through this process of sharing the dark truth of residential schools?

RM: The strength of survivors is amazing. Survivors are leaders in terms of showing us all how to stand up against injustice. They have led the country down a path of understanding and healing that we should all be thankful for. This is the path of reconciliation. I have also learned how deep the scars from residential schools run, and how much ground we still need to cover in terms of helping Canadians understand this past.

MJ: What is the NCTR doing to model and share its work with other memory institutions in Canada?

RM: Working in partnership is critical for reconciliation. All is one – and this is what reconciliation is about – a collective coming together to understand the past so we can move forward along a new path of healing, unity, and togetherness. This means sharing truth with many partners, but it also means working in direct collaboration with partners, organizations, individuals, and governments. Reconciliation is a collective journey, and we are trying to model togetherness and collaboration in all of our processes at the NCTR.

MJ: How can museums use the documents and records from the NCTR in their own communities?

RM: Understanding the local history and impacts of residential schools is critical, and so is sharing information.  A friend of the NCTR recently shared a teaching with us at the closing of the Pathways Conference. He said that reconciliation can be thought of as a bow and arrow. The arrow needs to travel backwards before it can be released forwards and find its target. This is very similar to our collective journey. We need to understand the past; we need to go back to the teachings of the knowledge keepers and elders in order to move forward in a good way. Museums are critical in this journey.

MJ: What is some advice you can offer to smaller museums in working to tell this history?

RM: Engage local communities and Indigenous peoples. Do what you can. Re-examine 
your collections to see if you can make improvements to how you are presenting history. Is it balanced? Are Indigenous peoples represented? Are Indigenous peoples represented in a way that is reflective of how Indigenous peoples want to be represented?
Partner with other institutions. Reach out to the NCTR to look into leveraging some of the digital options available. Most importantly, pay close attention to how history is bring presented, who and what is included, and who and what is excluded. Reconciliation is largely about giving Indigenous peoples a voice.

MJ: Reconciliation is a journey and a life-long commitment. What advice can you offer someone who is just starting the journey and beginning to learn this truth?

RM: Learn. That is the most important part. Keep an open mind. Realize that some of the things you will learn will challenge your current understandings, some things may be unsettling, some may be disturbing, and some may be shocking. However, that is critical to changing the status quo.

Remember that the TRC says the shameful history of residential schools forces us to realize that many different elements of how we have built Canadian society need to change. Reconciliation is not about assimilation under nicer terms. It is about change and about building something we have not seen yet in this country.

Incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing and being is a deeply rewarding journey. Embrace that, but remember that while this journey is happening, Indigenous peoples themselves still need to heal and build trust with Canada and with Canadians. This trust will only come through consistent, respectful relationships, and Canadians have a real responsibility to create these.  Be open to change. Look in the mirror to try to understand what barriers to change might exist within you or your organization.

MJ: What is next for the NCTR?

RM: This is an exciting time for the NCTR. We are continuing to build, strengthen our relationships with our partners, and share and promote understanding of the past, present, and future. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are deeply grateful to all of the partners and friends we have made across the country. We look forward to playing our role in reconciliation, and to continue to help repair the damage done in whatever way we can.
Thank you to Ry Moran for sharing his insight and knowledge. We are looking forward to hearing more at his upcoming keynote address and session on Friday, September 16 at AMA Conference 2016.

Miranda Jimmy
Program Manager, Edmonton Heritage Council
Co-Founder, RISE – Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton

To register for AMA Conference 2016 A Culture of Sharing: Inquiring Minds, Empowering Museums, visit the AMA Conference Website or

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of INFOrm.

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