Residential schools

Truth and reconciliation: 5 years, 3,000 pages, 94 recommendations

TRC report spurs calls for action after years of struggle and dedication to the process
Photo: michael_swan

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its final report on Tuesday at a ceremony in Ottawa, bringing to a close an exhaustive five-year process.

Your ad here
Don't like ads?
Automated ads help us pay our journalists, servers, and team. Support us by becoming a member today to hide all automated ads:
Become a member

An emotional Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the commission, spoke of how he hoped the end of the commission's work marked the beginning of a new chapter in this country: an era where Indigenous peoples and Canadians work together to overcome the damage caused by the residential schools.

Sinclair also spoke of the psychological toll of listening to the thousands of people who testified about their experiences in the schools.

"Each and every one of us who listened to them would go home at the end of each day and we would hold our children, our grandchildren, closer," he said.

"Not so much to protect them from some invisible force, but to gain the strength that we would need each day to go forth and to listen once again."

The report is over 3,000 pages, contains seven volumes and includes the 94 recommendations first released in June.

“What we need to do is move forward with optimism and in good faith and not let the report sit for any length of time. That wouldn’t be to our benefit.”

In it are chilling details about the mental, physical and sexual abuse suffered by thousands of Indigenous children during the history of the schools.

Grim statistics shine a light on the horrors of the schools. Most children who were sexually assaulted were between the ages of 6 and 13. Over 30,000 individuals have received settlements for that abuse. However, 3,200 died of disease and malnutrition, or trying to escape the schools. And hundreds may be buried in unmarked graves, scattered across the country.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Final report
Racelle Kooy

For survivors, it was an historic day that acknowledged all of the pain and suffering caused by the residential school system.

"I was really lonesome for home,” said Jane Glennon, who is Woodland Cree and one of the survivors.

Originally from Southend, Saskatchewan, Glennon is a retired social worker, counsellor and teacher.

In 1951, she was sent to the Sturgeon Landing residential school at nine years old. After the school burned down, she was sent to Guy Hill residential school in The Pas, Manitoba. Later, Glennon attended the Assiniboia Indian Residential School in Winnipeg until the age of 19.

She remembers being physically abused by other students at Sturgeon Landing. But it was the sexual abuse by a high school principal that can still make her cry today, sexual abuse that carried on for three years.

“I was 14,” says Glennon. “I never told it to anybody.”

Like many residential school students, Glennon was not allowed to speak her language.

“We use to get punished if we spoke Cree,” she said.

“We were treated like prisoners. We had to dress alike. We had to have our hair short. We had to go to mass every other day.”

With a new government, Glennon remains hopeful that stories like hers won't be forgotten.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Racelle Kooy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was at the release of the TRC final report. Visibly moved, he told those gathered for the event that it's time to move from apology to reconciliation.

"Our goal, as we move forward toward together, is clear," he said.

"It is to lift this burden from your shoulders, from those of your families and communities. It is to accept fully our responsibilities and our failings, as a government and as a country."

Asked whether she still lives with the impacts of the residential school system, Glennon doesn’t hesitate.

“I still feel as a parent, I failed my kids sometimes,” says Glennon, a mother of two. “I keep thinking maybe I would have been a better parent if I didn’t go to that residential school.”

The prime minister said that Canada accepts all 94 recommendations made in the report and vowed to begin working on renewing the federal government's relationship with Indigenous people.

Chief Terri Brown of Tahltan First Nation, located in northern B.C., said with the federal government now paying attention, change is coming for Indigenous peoples.

For the past six years, Brown served as a TRC committee member. She is a residential school survivor.

“What we need to do is move forward with optimism and in good faith and not let the report sit for any length of time,” said Brown.

“That wouldn’t be to our benefit.”

Chief Brown would like to see more community-based healing programs in First Nation communities, with work to restore language and culture, which was taken away by the residential school system.

“We need to regain and become the proud people that we are, and even stronger in a sense that we can determine our own future.”

You might also be interested in...
Quebec Votes 2018
The oil lobby’s pipeline to the CAQ, part 1
André Noël
September 23, 2018
Suicide
Indigenous people fighting to live through community and activism
Greg Macdougall
September 11, 2018
Quebec votes 2018
Is this the end of the Parti Québécois?
Ethan Cox
September 30, 2018