Aimée Craft, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba’s law school, has been appointed director of research for the newly opened National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The establishment of the new centre, Craft explains, flows from the settlement agreement arrived at from the residential school class actions. The University of Manitoba was one of several universities that applied to to establish such a centre.
“Our university was chosen for the centre, the only one of its kind in Canada flowing from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission settlement agreement,” she says. ‘We will be collaborating with other universities and partners across the country.
“Our work here will be centered around policy changes resulting from the TRC, research into the legacy impact on residential school survivors and their families, and larger societal relations in terms of reconciliation.
She says the centre aims to create a complete picture of the residential school story but there are still many questions and more and more information is still coming in.
“After all, the last residential school was just closed in 1996 and there are still survivors who are relatively young. And each school provided a different kind of experience,” she says. “We are continuing to build on the research.”
Craft says the work to create the new Truth and Reconciliation Centre began in February 2013, with the agreement to establish the centre at the university finalized in June, 2013. Craft was appointed to her role — in addition to her teaching duties at the university, in June.
Originally from Manitoba and of Métis-Anishinaabe background, Craft is a 2004 graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa.
“I first thought that I would pursue a career in environmental law,” she recalls. “But after taking a course in aboriginal law, I changed my mind. I found aboriginal law to be intellectually challenging and I have a personal connection.”
She spent about 10 years working for the Public Interest Law Centre in Winnipeg specializing in aboriginal law. She joined the University of Manitoba just over a year ago and is developing two courses: Indigenous legal traditions and a seminar related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Craft reports that students and archival staff are digitizing all the TRC archive material so it will be available online both for academic researcher and residential school survivors and their families no matter where they live in Canada.
“Our webssite should be accessible by November,” she says. “We needed to balance the need for privacy for survivors and their families and research needs before we were prepared to go online. We already have many people who want to view the archives.”
Researchers, she says, will be able to learn about the general history of residential schools as well as individual schools as well as delve into specific records concerning illnesses, for example, deaths and even the food that was served.
“We are also studying the experience of truth and reconciliation commissions in South Africa and Australia and seeing what we can learn from them.”
Craft’s term as director of research is for five years.
“,” she says.
“The residential schools issue is not just an Indian problem. It is a Canadian societal issue and we all have to work together on the process of reconciliation.”