Reflections on the National Gathering on Missing Children and Unmarked Graves

From January 16 – 18, 2023, the third National Gathering on Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites took place in Vancouver.  Delegates called for agencies linked with Residential Schools to release records that could support Indigenous communities in trying to identify who went missingfrom the institutions and where they are buried.

For those in attendance, it was an emotionally heavy time.  The strong presence of health support workers, the frequent smudging, and the compassionate tone set by the leaders made a noticeable difference.

General Council Archives Manager Nichole Vonk spoke on the second day of the Gathering, highlighting how our church is sharing its records of the colonizing institutions it operated.

Four delegates from the Pacific Mountain Region participated.  Here are some reflections:

“When attending this gathering as an observer and learner, and hearing the survivors and the families calling for accountability, justice, and support from society, a voice whispered in my heart, ‘How can we help to increase the awareness of the residential school history? As a United Church, how do we practice a conversation in the related issues to be an anti-racism church in a colonized environment?’ And, ‘In a process of decolonization, how can we identify ourselves and make an influencing behavior?’ In sum, I was humbled and honored to attend this gathering and delighted to show our commitment to being supportive and willing to walk with Indigenous survivors, families, and communities in this healing journey.”
— Rev. Ibi Chuan, Cranbrook United Church

“I didn’t know much about data sovereignty or how much it meant to Indigenous communities and people before attending this conference. After listening to the speakers and attendees talk about these issues both theoretically and practically I’ve come to realize how much of a difference this can make for Indigenous people. The sheer amount of information relating to them is baffling, but more so is the lack of access and control. It makes me happy to know that the United Church is working towards easy repatriation of the data for these people, because it is something that is extremely important on so many levels.”
— Deanna Feuer, United Churches of Langley Youth Facilitator and PMRC Project Archivist

“For most of the gathering, I sat at an information booth outside the plenary.  Colleagues from other archives (e.g. Library and Archives Canada, BC Archives) were also present.  With laptop at hand, I was prepared to work with survivors and families searching for names of missing children or requesting complete records packages for their communities.  I think our presence and willingness to open access to the records made a statement.  And I made some extremely important connections with survivors and with the B.C. Métis Federation that will hopefully open the door to further healing and self-determination.  With time and persistence, I’m hopeful there will be a broader ecumenical effort to honour data sovereignty and to repatriate records.”
— Blair Galston, PMRC Regional Archivist

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