IRS (Indian Residential School) Legacy Project

Dorene Bernard and Elder Phyllis Googoo during the 2012 IRS commemoration event at the Waycobah First Nation, Wayobah, NS.

The IRS Legacy Project is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Commemoration Project that began in April 2013. The goal is to establish a permanent Residential School Legacy Program at the future Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre (MDCC) — an opportunity to sustain the momentum of the TRC, and build on its work beyond 2015.

The IRS Legacy Program will honour the lives of survivors of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School and their families through gathering, sharing and protecting the stories of survivors, families and communities for our future generations. To achieve this goal, we need the on-going contributions and involvement of Shubenacadie Indian Residential School survivors and their families.

During the 2013-14 year, IRS Legacy Project Coordinator Dorene Bernard, and MDCC Staff Shannon Googoo and Sheila Pierro, travelled to communities throughout Atlantic Canada to meet with survivors and their families.

The MDCC IRS Legacy project gathered input from attendees that reflects their life experiences including the IRS along with how to share and to honour those experiences at the future MDCC.  Discussions about the MDCC plans for IRS exhibits were very informative and this input will be incorporated into the development of the future IRS Legacy Program, as it continues.

Honouring Indian Residential School Survivors

Doug Knockwood, Indian Brook First Nation, shares stories of his childhood at the old saw mill near Newville Lake, NS, with the MDCC staff in June 2006.

Doug Knockwood, Indian Brook First Nation, shares stories of his childhood at the old saw mill near Newville Lake, NS, with the MDCC staff in June 2006.

The Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre staff, and Elders’ Advisory Council that guides its direction, have been dedicated to sharing the stories of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School since 2002 when planning for MDCC began.

The 13-member MDCC Elders’ Advisory Council has been instrumental in helping to shape the programs at the MDCC, including the IRS Legacy Program. Five members of the Elders’ Advisory Council are survivors of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. Three MDCC staff are descendents of survivors and one is also a survivor.

MDCC IRS Legacy Program

Currently, there are three program areas for the MDCC IRS Legacy Program: Exhibits and Programs, Research and Archives, and Education and Outreach.

Exhibits and Programs

Gallery schematic showing the historical overview of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School at the future MDCC. Image courtesy of Lundholm Associates Architects.

Gallery schematic showing the historical overview of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School at the future MDCC. Image courtesy of Lundholm Associates Architects.

The experiences and histories of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School will be the focus of one exhibit area at the MDCC. During our meetings with survivors and their families, we reviewed some of the ideas for exhibits, including an historical overview, a listening room area, and opportunities for healing and expression. As a result of our discussions and the input of survivors and their families, we will now revisit our multi-level approach. We acknowledge the need for protocols for the safety and well being of all visitors including survivors and their families.  Learn more or join the discussion here.

Research and Archives

Elsie Charles, Cecilia Glode, and Hazel Paul at the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School,  1931. From the digital archive of Elsie Charles Basque, educator and IRS survivor. Image courtesy of Elsie Charles Basque.

Elsie Charles, Cecilia Glode, and Hazel Paul at the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, 1931. From the digital archive of Elsie Charles Basque, educator and IRS survivor. Image courtesy of Elsie Charles Basque.

The MDCC IRS Legacy Program Research and Archives contains documents, media and objects that reflect the lives and histories of IRS survivors and their families. Sources for the collections include government, church and personal records. The IRS Legacy project invites survivors and descendants to contribute their personal archives which we seek to create an entire life record, that will inform the IRS experience within the context of other life experiences. This IRS Legacy program will continue to grow as input is submitted. Learn more or join the discussion here.

Education and Outreach

Melody Martin-Googoo has written a story called Mn’Ja’si Dante that anchors this curriculum unit. Drawing of Dante above courtesy of Gerald Gloade.

Melody Martin-Googoo has written a story called Mn’Ja’si Dante that anchors this curriculum unit. Drawing of Dante above courtesy of Gerald Gloade.

As part of a larger curriculum project, the MDCC has developed a curriculum unit for grades 7 to 9 addressing aspects of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. Curriculum resources such as these will shape the education and outreach programs of the MDCC IRS Legacy program. See the curriculum unit, learn more and join the discussion here.


Join the Discussion, Send a Comment

Are you an IRS survivor? A descendant? We would like your input into the development of the Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre IRS Legacy Program. What could the MDCC do to share and preserve the legacies and histories of the IRS survivors? What do you want your grandchildren to know about your life and your generation? Please let us know.

We would like to thank all participants of our MDCC IRS Legacy Project Community Gatherings, who shared stories and input. We look forward to hearing from you again.

There were many survivors and family members who indicated during our gatherings that they would like to submit their contributions of pictures, stories, art and their profiles to be included within the exhibit and collections. There are many who could not be at our community gatherings and we welcome and invite those who would like to contribute to the IRS Legacy program to contact us.

  • Post a public comment, or just browse the discussion below
  • Would you rather send the MDCC a private comment? Contact Tim Bernard, Director of History and Culture, at tim@cmmns.com

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