The Catholic religious order that operated some residential schools in Canada says it will open its archives in Rome to researchers.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate has agreed to grant the Winnipeg-based National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation full access to records in the Italian city. The records may include letters from missionaries to leaders in France and Rome.
The centre’s head archivist, Raymond Frogner, is expected to make an initial visit to the archives this spring.
The Oblates say it's an important commitment ahead of an Indigenous delegation to the Vatican. First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegates are to travel to Rome for meetings with Pope Francis next week.
Organizations representing the Indigenous groups have said they will be calling for the release of documents and for an apology from the Pope for the church's role in residential schools.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the Oblates said in a joint news release Tuesday that a truthful account of residential school history is essential for survivors, their families and communities to heal.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate operated 48 residential schools in Canada.
They included the Marieval Indian Residential School at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, where the discovery of unmarked graves spurred initial calls for justice and transparency.
The Oblates previously apologized for their involvement in residential schools and the harms they inflicted to Indigenous peoples and communities.
They have also provided the national centre with more than 40,000 records from four archives in Canada.
"These types of records are a critical component of the process that communities are currently undertaking to search former residential school sites, and may help to better understand the historical context of unmarked graves," the statement said.