Executive Director Kristin Kozar discusses the work of the IRSHDC and its forthcoming Open House

The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) is opening its doors to the UBC Vancouver community to highlight its important role on campus. Ahead of the first Open House on April 15, we spoke with Executive Director, Kristin Kozar about how the IRSHDC staff support Residential School Survivors and her plans to expand the centre’s role in supporting teaching and learning at UBC.

What is the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) and what is its role on campus?

The IRSHDC is a shared space that encourages dialogue about the Residential School system and the on-going impacts of colonialism in Canada. 

The IRSHDC supports Residential School Survivors, intergenerational Survivors and their families in accessing and researching Residential School records. It also facilitates research within communities on these issues.

The centre supports teaching and learning for the wider UBC community by hosting various film screenings and exhibitions about Canada’s colonial history and the ongoing impacts of the Indian Residential School system. For example, in fall of this year, the IRSHDC will host an exhibition called: Our Future, Our Children: The Indian Child Caravan 40 years later. This exhibition will educate visitors about the march and demonstration in Vancouver on Thanksgiving weekend 1980 in opposition to the disproportionate number of Indigenous children being apprehended from the Splatsin community. It charts the story of the Splatsin community which were the first to implement a band by-law regarding child welfare.

The centre also hosts a range of programming such as the annual Intergenerational March to commemorate Orange Shirt day on September 30.

The general public are also welcome at the centre, where they can view records on the Residential School system and learn about truth and reconciliation. Our gallery space, has an interactive touchscreen wall that provides information on different Residential Schools throughout BC, plus events and documents related to the Residential School system. We also have an intergenerational corner where families of all ages can learn about Residential Schools and other colonial policies through age appropriate books.

How does the IRSHDC contribute to making UBC a leading university globally in the implementation of Indigenous peoples’ human rights? 

Indigenous rights remain central to the work of the IRSHDC and we embody the work of the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan.

The advocacy and activism of Residential School Survivors resulted in the 2015 Truth and Reconcilliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action. The role of the IRSHDC, in this post-TRC era is to host research, education, programming and space for dialogue on what reconciliation means. Through our services, we explore how changes to government policies related to many segments of Canadian society are inherently connected to the truths of Residential School Survivors and how broad reaching the intergenerational effects have become.

Our work directly contributes to a number of goals stated in UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan.

In alignment with goal 2, we actively advocate for the truth by helping Survivors access their records. We also facilitate open dialogue through events, exhibits and our library and archive collections. Goal 3 – moving research forward – is reflected in our Oral Testimony Program which centres Indigenous communities and is led by their goals, initiatives and protocols.

Indigenizing the curriculum (goal 4) is part of our remit. I teach Information Practice and Protocol in Support of Indigenous Initiatives in the School of Information. My colleague Tricia Logan teaches two courses in the First Nations and Indigenous Studies curriculum, examining access to records in the Indigenous communities, and Structures of Settler Colonialism. Our aim is to help students question the neutrality of existing data and the importance of Indigenous ways of data collection and sharing.

In keeping with goal 5 – enriching our spaces –  the IRSHDC was designed by the first Indigenous graduate of UBC’s architecture program. Featuring several symbolic architectural elements, it reflects the diversity of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and provides a thought-provoking space for events on the Vancouver campus.

We are actively working to recruit more Indigenous staff (as stipulated by goal 6) and, at all times, we endeavor to create a holistic system of support for Indigenous faculty, staff, students and wider community (goal 8).

In conversations with your staff, what have they highlighted as some of the IRSHDC’s most impactful achievements?

Our staff value the work they do in helping support community research, outreach and Survivor requests for records and information. They are particularly proud of the development of the Oral Testimony Program at the Centre which has supported both recordings of testimonies as well as important dialogues on consent, access and the ethics of respectful engagement.

A lot of work has gone into building trust and safe spaces for dialogue. It has been gradual and our staff recognize that it’s of great importance to all the work the Centre does. We have worked hard at building partnerships and working alongside communities that are conducting their own research for Residential School Survivors regarding missing children.  

How does the IRSHDC support Indigenous students, faculty and staff at UBC?

Research support is available for a wide range of topics, including recording oral testimonies. We work in partnership with the Indian Residential School Survivor Society to provide health and cultural support and are looking into other offerings. We are also expanding how we provide talks and educational support. You can find out more about this at our Open House event on April 15.

What is your personal vision for the IRSHDC during your tenure as Executive Director?

I want to lead the centre according to the Indigenous ways of knowing protocol which is founded on the ancestral relationship Indigenous Peoples have with their surroundings.

I want to be in service to and for Indigenous communities. I want to bring more awareness when we are talking about Indigenous Data Sovereignty which is about the inherent rights of putting Residential School records back into the community to help find the missing children who did not make it home.

I also want to collaborate with Indigenous communities, including here at UBC. I will build and solidify relationships with the other Indigenous units on campus by nurturing, building and collaborating so we can grow from there and walk shoulder to shoulder moving forward.

How can faculty and staff learn more about the IRSHDC?

Faculty and Staff can visit our Open House on April 15, 2pm-5pm to meet me and our dedicated staff to learn about the centre, our exhibitions and our ongoing research. Our latest research is examining Indian Hospitals and the impacts that the facilities had on Indigenous people. The research will be presented in a future exhibition chronicloing the history of these hospitals and the ongoing impacts, while centering the experinces of Survivors. We would be more than happy to discuss opportunities for collaboration.

We encourage Indigenous groups, units, departments, and organizations to book guided tours of the Centre.