Delorme hopes to bridge the gap between government and witnesses for residential school records

Tuesday, October 17th, 2023 1:10pm


Image Caption

Cadmus Delorme, former chief of the Cowessess First Nations and now chair of the Residential Schools Documents Advisory Committee
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Cadmus Delorme has been tasked with bringing the “worldviews” of the Canadian government and Indigenous survivors together when it comes to identifying and acquiring all relevant records for Indian residential schools.

“No one’s opposing this,” said Delorme, chair of the Residential Schools Documents Advisory Committee since February.

“There's two worldviews here. There's a government perspective where their duty of care is to protect the integrity of the government. And then there's a duty of care for the truth, and that’s from living witnesses. So it is very good conversations.”

Those conversations will continue next week when the documents advisory committee meets.

In 2021, barely a month after Tk'emlúps te Secwepemc announced 215 unmarked graves had been identified through ground penetrating radar at the former Kamloops residential school in British Columbia, the Cowessess First Nation announced that 751 unmarked graves had been similarly identified at Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.

“I bared witness to many survivors and Indigenous people that were triggered because of how impactful unmarked graves are to Indigenous people,” said Delorme, who was chief of Cowessess at the time.

To find information about those unmarked graves drove Delorme to then Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada minister Marc Miller to get access to government files “to get this right.”

In December 2021, Miller directed his department to create a records advisory committee. More than two years later, Delorme was appointed chair.

In his role, Delorme says he chairs two “unofficial committees,” one consisting of heads of government departments, which he met with in June, and the other of First Nations, Métis and Inuit representatives, living witnesses or survivors, and those with technical expertise. The overall process is the Residential Schools Documents Advisory Committee.

On the agenda right now is determining how a residential school document is defined, as well as which government departments and agencies should be accessed for those documents.

Delorme said the government has a narrower definition of what constitutes an Indian residential school document compared to the definition the witnesses describe.

He points to Indian hospitals. While the government does not view those records as having a direct impact on residential schools, witnesses see hospital records as relevant. When a child at residential school was sick, they went to Indian hospitals. Sometimes, they passed away at the hospitals and were buried on those grounds.

Redacted documents are also an issue, said Delorme.

Indirect government departments, agencies and Crown corporations are also being looked at by the committee.

Delorme singles out Canada Post. He notes there was a time when status treaty money of students was mailed or collected through Canada Post and that’s an important record for tracking students.

Delorme said it doesn’t frustrate him that the federal government at this point has excluded Canada Post in document finding, or other agencies survivors may identify. Instead, he looks at it as “our experts are living witnesses in this committee, so the government should be honoured that there are such expert people that have now given directions/recommendations to do it in a way that it's all done correctly.”

Delorme stresses the committee’s work is only targeting the 139 Indian residential schools identified through the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement in order to “keep the goal post black and white.”

However, he said, the committee feels “we should be thinking bigger” and that could mean at least 25 million government-held records that need to be transferred to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). The NCTR was set as the depository for all records through the residentials school settlement agreement.

That figure is two million higher than the number offered by Crown-Indigenous Relations officials in September when they spoke at a hearing hosted by the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples.

Read that story here: Centre for Truth and Reconciliation still waiting for residential school records to be submitted, hears Senate -

The senate committee has been hearing from gatekeepers of various records that could be used to either identify children who died at Indian residential schools or locate where they were buried.

The hearings are the follow-up to recommendations included in an interim report, Honouring the Children Who Never Came Home: Truth, Education and Reconciliation, released by the senate committee last July.

At the Sept. 19 hearing, the senate committee was also told by Crown-Indigenous Relations assistant deputy minister Garima Dwivedi that the department was waiting for further guidance from Delorme’s committee on moving forward to ensure there were no gaps in the documents sent to NCTR.

The documents advisory committee has a five-year mandate.

Delorme said documents that everyone agrees on will continue to be transferred to the NCTR and he expects about half of those to make that transition in the next two years.

“It’s the gray area that we have to have further discussion and understanding on,” he said.

Delorme is well aware that there is an urgency to this process.

“When living witnesses share with me their frustrations, their tiredness, (they’re) just not seeing tangible results and what they're expecting, that bothers me personally and my duty of care here is to do this in a quick manner,” he said.

Delorme say it’s his role to “nudge” the government to complete the task “in a manner that we could honour the living witnesses.”

As for his final report, Delorme stresses that as chair of the records advisory committee he’s not a government employee.

“I will leave everything in (my final report) from what I found was easy to what I found the challenges were and the areas that maybe the government would or would not address,” he said.

The senate committee is meeting next week and although Delorme was issued an invitation, he had to decline as his records advisory committee was also meeting the same day.

However, he says, he would “be honoured to come in” at another date.

Windspeaker is owned and operated by the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta, an independent, not-for-profit communications organization.

Each year, publishes hundreds of free articles focused on Indigenous peoples, their issues and concerns, and the work they are undertaking to build a better future.

If you support objective, mature and balanced coverage of news relevant to Indigenous peoples, please consider supporting our work. Whatever the amount, it helps keep us going.