'We need to have the truth before we can have healing': Ottawa to release residential school records

How kids ended up in unmarked graves, like the ones discovered last year in Kamloops, B.C., could soon become clearer after Ottawa agreed to release a mass of records related to residential schools.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs welcomed the deal, which could see hundreds of thousands of new documents shared.

"If your child went to public school, you would have access to those records as a parent or grandparent or guardian," explained Kukpi7 Judy Wilson. "In this case, we never had access to it."

The governments and churches that ran the schools have been under sustained pressure to provide the records since the graves were detected at a number of residential school sites across the country last year.

On Thursday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Mark Miller signed a Memorandum of Understanding that outlined how and when records would be released to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.

"Survivors, we want you to trust that we are doing all we can to uncover the truth," Miller said at a news conference. "We know our words aren't enough and we need concrete action."

Words aren't enough because for years, officials insisted all documents had been released. Last October, the prime minister told reporters as much.

"All the federal records in possession of the federal government have already been turned over to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation," Justin Trudeau said.

Yet that wasn't the case, and First Nations leaders pushed back, leading to the newly struck deal and framework to release more records.

For Wilson, it marks a crucial step towards reconciliation.

"We need to have the truth before we can have healing," she said in an interview with CTV News.

The process could take six months, and resources will be required to comb through the information, which needs to be handled with care.

The horrors of Canada's residential school system saw increased international attention last year, as more people around the world learned about the thousands of children who were pulled from their families by force and put into church-operated, state-sanctioned schools where abuse was rampant.

Beyond residential schools, Wilson said documents related to hospitals may help shed light on what happened to others who vanished.

"A number of people in our community were sent to the infirmaries for TB back in the day and you know, some may never had made it home either," added Wilson.