Plain Talk 6: Residential Schools

6.4. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) overarching purposes are to reveal to Canadians the complex truth about the history and the ongoing legacy of the church-run residential schools, in a manner that fully documents the individual and collective harms perpetrated against Aboriginal peoples, and honours the resiliency and courage of former students, their families, and communities; and guide and inspire a process of truth and healing, leading toward reconciliation within Aboriginal families, and between Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal communities, churches, governments, and Canadians generally.

The three commissioners of the Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission were: ​Dr. Marie Wilson , The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair,  and Chief Wilton Littlechild.
The three commissioners of the Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission were: ​Dr. Marie Wilson , The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, and Chief Wilton Littlechild.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent six years examining Canada’s residential schools. Under the leadership of commissioners, the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson, and Chief Wilton Littlechild, the TRC produced corroborating evidence of physical and sexual abuse, institutionalized child neglect, higher than normal mortality rates in schools, and horrific government-directed assimilation tactics. The report confirms much of what we already knew or suspected about the federal government’s apartheid-like assimilation policies and how they were driven by a European sense of racial superiority. The TRC’s work is critically important to ensure Canadians have a full understanding of their history.

Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair said: “We must remember that at the same time that aboriginal children were made to feel inferior, generation after generation of non-aboriginal were exposed to the false belief that their cultures were superior. Imperialism, colonialism and a sense of cultural superiority linger on. The courts have agreed that these concepts are baseless and immoral in the face of inalienable human rights.”

Indigenous leaders greeted the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s summary report on residential schools with openness while urging all Canadians to embrace the findings and close the gap.

Mission and Vision of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

  • Mission Statement
    The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will reveal the complete story of Canada’s residential school system, and lead the way to respect through reconciliation … for the child taken, for the parent left behind.
  • Vision Statement
    We will reveal the truth about residential schools, and establish a renewed sense of Canada that is inclusive and respectful, and that enables reconciliation.

Calls to Action

In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that his party would adopt and implement all 94 recommendations from the TRC’s report. Those recommendations, or Calls to Action, range from drafting new and revised legislation for education, child welfare and Aboriginal languages to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and creating a national inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women.

Read the 94 TRC Calls to Action here.

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National Chief Bellegarde said that although all 94 recommendations are vital, addressing the education gap is one of the most important. One of the key recommendations in the report is that the history of Aboriginal peoples, the residential school system and its legacy become part of the curriculum, from kindergarten to the end of high school.

Drawing from the strength of survivors, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has put Canada and Indigenous people on a path towards reconciliation.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

All Canadians are affected by the impacts of the Indian residential schools system and it is time to commit ourselves to reconciliation and action.

The impacts of residential schools are still with us and are contributing to the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and Canadians. We must close that gap.

The schools operated on the assumption that First Nations cultures and languages had to be eradicated and profoundly damaged the relationship between First Nations and Canada. We must repair that relationship.

Action is long overdue, and I believe that the Government of Canada must formally commit to working with First Nations and engaging Canadians in implementing the Commission’s calls to action.

— National Chief, Perry Bellegarde

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