This National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) project implements long term preservation and advanced discovery and access for the NCTR’s digital archival records. The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the history and legacy of forceful assimilation of Indigenous children through Residential Schools (RS). It created the NCTR to preserve the accumulated records and to promote education, investigation, preservation, and commemoration of RS history. For future generations, access to the NCTR archives is a public good. This digital preservation and infrastructure project promotes reconciliation through acknowledgement. With Indigenous community approval, it provides researchers access to archival records to theorize oppression and disrupt the colonial relationships between academic researchers and Indigenous communities. It is a recognition that we are what we choose to remember; but we are also what we choose to forget.

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) spent seven years acquiring the records and testimonies to document the history and legacy of the residential school system in Canada. Approximately 150,000 Indigenous children were forcefully sent to these schools over a period of approximately 100 years. In this investigative work, the TRC did not establish a preservation program. The (NCTR) was assigned the mandate to save and make available the TRC’s work. This required preserving a high volume of digital material (over four million documents and 7,000 recorded testimonies) in a great diversity of formats, arrangements, descriptive and technical metadata. The diversity of the records - in provenance, format, and content - is the project's greatest challenge. The NCTR began by winning a $6 million Canada Foundation for Innovation grant to acquire the necessary resources to implement the required IT infrastructure to support a digital preservation program. The preservation project has two elements. First, design and implement a digital workplan to systematically preserve all the digital documents (maps, photos, text) in its holdings. Second, design and implement a project to preserve the almost 7,000 digital AV recordings of Indigenous testimonies concerning the legacy of the residential school system. Both digital preservation components rely on an IT storage array which was also implemented as part of this project.

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To preserve its digital documents, the NCTR teamed with Artefactual Systems to implement their Archivematica preservation system. The greatest preservation challenge for the NCTR in this component of the program was the diversity of file formats and metadata. The TRC consulted 140 church orders of various denominations and 45 provincial and federal government offices to complete its research mandate. The result was extreme diversity in digital formats and metadata. Using the Open Archival Information System model, the NCTR set up a workflow to create Archival Information Packages (AIP) with descriptive metadata meaningful to Indigenous communities as well as appropriate preservation IT metadata. The aggregated records of each religious order and each government office represented an individual AIP. Artefactual Systems teamed with the NCTR digital archives staff to set up a server array to support Archivematica’s suite of open source microservices designed to identify and reformat digital documents into preservation standard formats with appropriate metadata. Due to its unique value, the NCTR first completed preservation work on the religious records sets. The NCTR now holds 19.7 tbs of religious records as AIPs on a server set up exclusively for preservation. Work has begun on the government records. With infrastructure and workflow now established, the NCTR anticipates completion of these government records sets by October . When complete the NCTR will have reformatted and preserved as AIPs, on a preservation dedicated server, 242.95 tbs of historical documentation on the over 100 year operation of the RS system in Canada. 

To preserve the digital AV testimonies, the NCTR collaborated with the National Film Board (NFB) to create preservation master copies of each Sharing Circle and Sharing Panel. The TRC visited over 200 Indigenous communities to hold these hearings and record the testimony of RS Survivors and their relations. Unlike the copies of the religious and government records, these are original statements on the legacy of the RS system. Held with Indigenous ceremony, these Indigenous hearings are an internationally unique collection of records. The preservation challenge for this component of the project was working with a variety of commercial AV file formats created with commercial equipment of diverse quality. The TRC created 44,805 AV files of hearings that collected Indigenous testimonies. This amounted to 2591.99 hours of testimony or 106.78 tbs of digital recording. The variety of AV file formats included AVI, MOV, MTS, MXF, and MP4. Included in this amount is 85 tbs of B-roll, recordings not included in the final edit of the testimony but nevertheless important. The NFB workflow included transferring files to the NFB studios; classifying and verifying diverse original formats from the TRC; transcoding the files using NFB's in-house editing studios; creating an Interoperable Master Format (IMF), master copies using a JPEG 2000 codec with lossless compression. The formatting details for the master copies follow SMPTE (Society Motion Picture and Television Engineering) standards for long term AV digital storage: The NFB will also create MP4 low resolution access copies for the NCTR web site and higher resolution, “mezzanine” copies for media and research purposes. The AV files component of the preservation program is one third complete. With the workflow and resource architecture created, and all the various recording formats examined, this component of the preservation project is over one third complete, with AIPs now stored on the preservation server. The project is on track for completion by the end of 2022.

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