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RCMP museum to tell stories about the role of force in residential schools

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The interior of the RCMP Heritage Center in Regina.

MARK TAYLOR / The Globe and Mail

The role of the national police in the residential school system must be highlighted in the new RCMP museum, according to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the institution’s leaders.

The Regina-based RCMP Heritage Center announces a new Executive Director next Wednesday and will soon be embarking on an extensive consultation process to revamp its exhibits to tell both positive and negative stories in RCMP history. The center is in the process of becoming a new national museum and its current content does not lean into darker historical moments.

These changes come as the discovery of anonymous graves in nearby Cowessess First Nation, and other locations, re-emphasizes the legacy of the residential school system and underscores the need for this new national museum to address the role of the RCMP in forcing Aboriginal children to attend residential schools.

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“The RCMP History Museum should tell the whole story, not some glorified version,” Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “The issues of systemic racism, aboriginal racism, the residential school program, these are all things that should be addressed. “

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Mr. Guilbeault added that the Department of Canadian Heritage will oversee the new institution.

“There is no version of reality where a museum like this would happen without proper and thorough consultation and involvement in the design of the museum, not necessarily from a physical point of view, but in terms of ‘exhibitions,’ he said.

The RCMP Heritage Center is receiving $ 4.5 million over three years to transform into a new national museum, part of the $ 66 million allocated in the April federal budget to Canada’s national museums.

Dan Toppings, executive director of the center, said the funding requires them to conduct extensive consultations and the new museum will include both good and bad stories from RCMP history. He said they would soon be speaking with people across Canada to get their feedback.

“I anticipate that pieces of all of their stories will be part of the new RCMP Heritage Center,” said Mr. Toppings. Regarding the content on the role of the RCMP in the residential school system, he said he would be “very surprised if this was not part of the story that will be told in the future”.

After the discovery of 751 anonymous graves in Cowessess First Nation connected to the former Marieval Indian Residential School, the center issued a statement expressing grief and support for survivors and families affected by the related intergenerational trauma. Cowessess First Nation is approximately a two hour drive from the RCMP Heritage Center, and Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme sits on the centre’s board of directors.

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Kevin Doherty, chairman of the board, said they wanted to show respect to Mr. Delorme and his community. “There is obviously a role the RCMP played in the history of residential schools,” he said.

While current exhibits feature limited mentions of Indigenous communities, Doherty said the next iteration of the museum will include the history of the force’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. The announcement of their new CEO, he said, will kick off the next step in the consultation process.

Karine Duhamel, historian and former curator of Indigenous content at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, said consultations when developing such exhibits are essential, but there must be actions to follow.

“Meaningful engagement or consultation allows those who have engaged to see their comments in the exhibit,” she said. “An insignificant consultation is for empty talk and performative alliance, where you can ask someone for their opinion, but you really don’t intend to do it. “

Dr Duhamel, who is Anishinaabe-Métis, also said it’s important for the content to bring Indigenous perspectives to the fore and position these stories as a shared story alongside other content.

“Not deciding which stories we are going to tell about indigenous peoples, but rather working with indigenous peoples to determine which stories should be told,” she added.

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Dr. Duhamel said she sees the new museum as a great opportunity to help build better relationships with Indigenous communities and advance reconciliation for the RCMP and police in general.

“In the future, as they develop content, if they do it in a real partnership and real collaboration, then the truth is what will emerge,” she said.

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