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‘Witnesses to history’: University makes 3D virtual replicas of residential schools

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CALGARY — A new project from the University of Calgary is creating 3D digital records of some Alberta residential schools.

The Taylor Family Digital Library, in consultation with Indigenous communities in Alberta, has created accurate virtual and physical models of three former residential schools with plans for more in the future.

Prof. Peter Dawson, the project’s leader, said it is important to preserve a dark part of Canada’s history.

“Why preserve these buildings that are associated with so much tragedy and human trauma? It’s for precisely that reason that we are working with (three groups) to preserve these schools. Because these schools really are witnesses to history and sites of conscience,” said Dawson, head of the university’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.

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“They’re the physical manifestation of an education system, in name only, that caused great harm and suffering to generations of Indigenous children.”

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada over a century. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has detailed mistreatment at the schools, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children.

With the use of lidar technology and original building plans, three dimensional images of the Old Sun Indian Residential School at Siksika Nation, east of Calgary, Blue Quills school in St. Paul, Alta., and Poundmaker’s Lodge Carriage House, which once formed part of the Edmonton Indian Residential School in St. Albert, Alta., have been created.

Stories from residential school survivors are to be embedded into each virtual replica.

“The sad reality is that many, many people don’t know about this history. I thought it was important to preserve it digitally because the young people, as they heard more and more about the residential schools, were angry,” said Vivian Ayoungman, 75, who spent nine years the at Old Sun school.

“I thought we’ve really got to do some work. We can’t be part of erasing our own history. We have to have the evidence. We want to preserve that building so that people know that it wasn’t a figment of our imagination. That it really happened to us.”

Ayoungman eventually became a teacher and now works at a community college located in the old residential school building where she attended as a child.

“We have really painful memories of those times when it was a residential school,” she said.

“I got strapped for speaking my language at a very young age. I entered that school not speaking a word of English.”

Ayoungman said those who survived residential schools are getting older, and having a digital record will ensure their history survives.

“There’s no danger of it being forgotten. It’s preserved how forever long digitization lasts,” she said.

Her nephew Kent Ayoungman, 42, said both his parents and grandparents attended residential schools and he had no idea what they went through.

“Growing up, they never talked about their experiences, what they went through. So we didn’t really know,” he said.

“Who wants to hear about what they went through when they were in those places? It just changed the life of our people. We need to talk about it. Our people need to hear these stories of what they went through.”

The project is entering a second phase, which is to digitally document the original grounds surrounding the three residential schools — a landscape that included hockey rinks, athletic grounds, gardens, and barns — to provide a more complete account of daily life at the schools.

The scans are eventually to be archived at each former school and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

 

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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B.C. finance minister replaced in Premier David Eby’s new-look cabinet

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B.C. Premier David Eby to reveal new cabinet with health, safety, housing priorities

British Columbia Premier David Eby has unveiled a new-look cabinet that includes eight first-time ministers and removes Selina Robinson from the finance ministry.

Former forests minister Katrine Conroy takes over the finance portfolio, while Robinson moves to post-secondary education and future skills.

Robinson announced just last month that the NDP government had a surplus windfall of $5.7 billion dollars, allowing Eby to spend on his priorities of housing, health care and public safety.

The highest-profile appointment among the crop of newcomers goes to Niki Sharma, who takes over from Eby as attorney general.

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Sharma, who was previously Parliamentary secretary for community development and non-profits, had tears in her eyes Wednesday as she received a standing ovation at the Government House ceremony, where the ministers were sworn in by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin.

“Our cabinet represents the diversity of our province,” said Eby, who took over as premier from John Horgan on Nov. 18. “Together they are a strong team. They are going to take on the big challenges facing our province.”

Eby described Conroy as “rural tough,” and says he chose her for finance because he has worked with her for a decade.

“British Columbians want her on their side,” Eby said of Conroy, who represents Kootenay West in B.C.’s southeast.

He cited her as having a background in agriculture, adding “she’s a hunter and she is tough.”

Eby would not categorize Robinson as having been demoted and said she will have an important role in ensuring institutions prepare students for challenging economic times.

He also said Robinson would use her experience in the business and non-profit sectors to bring success to her new ministry.

Eby said he couldn’t be more excited about getting down to work, and sought to quell suggestions of an early election, ahead of the scheduled vote in October 2024.

“I don’t know how many times I can say it, I am committed to a fixed election date for B.C.,” he said.

Ravi Kahlon, who was co-chair of Eby’s leadership campaign, will take on the new Housing Ministry.

Bowinn Ma will be the minister of emergency management and climate readiness, while Rachna Singh, a former Parliamentary secretary, is elevated to cabinet as the education minister.

The other newcomers include Pam Alexis in agriculture, minister of state for child care Grace Lore, Jobs Minister Brenda Bailey, minister of state for trade Jagrup Brar, minister of state for workforce development Andrew Mercier, and minister of state for infrastructure and transit Dan Coulter.

Eby said his ministers were a strong team ready to take on big challenges.

“They’re accepting this responsibility at a time when we’re facing significant head winds. Global inflation is driving up costs of essentials for families, like groceries. Global economic uncertainty is raising anxiety, health care systems across Canada are under strain, and B.C. is no exception.”

Those keeping their jobs include Adrian Dix in health, George Heyman with environment, Mitzi Dean as the minister of children and family development, Rob Fleming in transport and Harry Bains in Labour.

Deputy premier Mike Farnworth also remains the solicitor general and minister in charge of public safety.

Exiting cabinet are George Chow who held the trade portfolio, Nicholas Simons from social development, and Katrina Chen from child care.

Chen released a statement on Tuesday saying she had asked not to be considered for cabinet as she concentrated on recovering from long-term trauma suffered because of gender-based violence, including as a child.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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Quebec’s auditor finds Education Department ill-prepared for pivot to online learning

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Quebec‘s auditor general says the province’s Education Department was ill-prepared when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shutter in March 2020 and it still does not have a complete picture of the learning delays that resulted.

Guylaine Leclerc expresses concern in her audit of the Education Department that the lack of data won’t permit for effective remedial measures, meaning some students could drop out and be deprived of a diploma.

Her report says it’s not irreversible, but it’s important to know where students are struggling to be able to put appropriate measures in place.

The report also finds the province was slow to provide school boards, known as service centres in Quebec, with guidance on the minimum educational services to be offered in the spring of 2020, which led to widely different offerings depending on the school district.

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Many service centres also did not have the necessary computers to pivot to online education, and for some that situation persisted 18 months into the pandemic.

Leclerc was also critical of the department’s purchase of $42 million in video-conferencing equipment that remains largely unused.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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Bob Rae heads to Haiti in attempt at political consensus, amid possible intervention

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Canada is trying to dislodge a political impasse in Haiti by sending one of its top diplomats to Port-au-Prince.

Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, started an in-person push for negotiations Wednesday.

Haiti is facing a series of crises as armed gangs block access to fuel and essentials, leading to water and power outages that are worsening a cholera outbreak.

The Haitian government has asked for a foreign military to intervene and push out the gangs, but opponents argue that might only prolong an unpopular government in a country that has not had elections since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada might be part of an intervention, but only if there is a consensus across Haiti’s fractured political scene.

Rae’s three-day visit will include talks with politicians, grassroots groups and United Nations officials on how Canada could play a role in what the Liberals say would be “Haitian-led solutions.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand gave no sense of what that might look like.

“We are making sure to be prudent in this situation,” she told reporters Wednesday.

“We are studying those contributions, potential contributions, and we will have more to say on that in short order.”

This fall, Canada has sanctioned 11 prominent Haitians over alleged ties to gangs, sent military vehicles to the country, and had Trudeau’s former national security adviser conduct an assessment mission.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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