In March 2011 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada held a three-day conference on institutions of memory in Vancouver. Following that conference, faculty and staff from the First Nations House of Learning (FNHL) at UBC met with the leadership of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS), also based in Vancouver, to discuss the value of an institution addressing the experiences of survivors of the Indian residential schools on the west coast. On November 1st of the same year, a day-long event for campus leaders at the UBC First Nations Longhouse developed by FNHL and the IRSSS confirmed that even a basic understanding of the abuses of the Indian residential school system allowed people to begin thinking about colonial systems in an entirely different way. It became clear that a West Coast centre could not only provide survivors and their families and communities with access to TRC records, but could serve an important role in bringing many more people into informed and productive conversations. [see the video record of this event]

Some months later, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued a request for proposals to establish a National Research Centre. After much discussion, UBC supported the bid of the University of Manitoba to locate the national centre in Winnipeg–a proposal that included UBC’s intention to establish a West Coast independent affiliate with access to TRC records.

When the TRC conducted its final west coast National Event in September 2013, UBC suspended classes for a day and many students and faculty attended the event and, at the end of the day, heard UBC President Stephen Toope publicly announce the university’s intention [see video]. Before leaving UBC in June 2014, President Toope committed not only the location but the funds that would support Centre construction. In the months that followed, the proposal began its way through the many levels of design and approval required before construction could begin. In June, 2015, as the TRC completed its mandate, the UBC Board of Governors gave its approval for the construction process to begin, and, a year later in June 2016 physical construction was approved. On September 12, 2016, in a public ceremony, President Santa Ono announced the start of construction.

Throughout this process, interactions with the IRSSS and other Indian residential school survivors and community advisors has informed the process of establishing the Centre. Their ongoing support and advice will continue to direct the development of the Centre and its future operations. [visit the IRSSS site]

The Centre is a place to acknowledge the experiences of survivors, and, from their experiences, continue the discussions and thought that will takes us towards a better future.