All but one of the girls Velma Jackson knew from her days in an Indian residential school are dead. Some of the Blue Quills students died on the streets, some died working in the sex trade, some died from alcohol-fuelled accidents.
This is what Ms. Jackson told the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which on Tuesday released a landmark report that documents the horrific treatment of native children at the church-run institutions, where physical, emotional and sexual abuse was rampant.
The 388-page report of the commission, headed by Justice Murray Sinclair, drew a connection between the social ills borne out of the residential-school system and the murders and disappearances of indigenous women that plague the community today.
"More research is needed, but the available information suggests a devastating link between the large numbers of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and the many harmful background factors in their lives," the report says, pointing to poverty, domestic violence and the overrepresentation of natives in the child-welfare system. "The complex interplay of factors – many of which are part of the legacy of residential schools – needs to be examined, as does the lack of success of police forces in solving these crimes against Aboriginal women."
Among the report's 94 recommendations is for Ottawa to launch a national inquiry to investigate the violence and its relationship to the "inter-generational legacy of residential schools." The call comes a year after the RCMP revealed that at least 1,181 native women and girls were killed or went missing between 1980 and 2012.
After the August killing of Tina Fontaine, a native foster child who had been placed at a Winnipeg hotel, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed the need for an inquiry into the deaths and disappearances, saying they are not part of a sociological phenomenon but crimes best handled by police.
Native leaders cried foul, with some pointing to Tina's case as a prime example of how historic injustices can lead to modern tragedies. Tina's family said the struggles that left her vulnerable and on the streets of Winnipeg were inextricably linked to her father's 2011 killing – a beating death committed by two men whose families were rocked by abuse in the residential-school system.
"There is unquestionably a connection between the residential-school experience and the current experiences of indigenous women in Canada," said Dawn Harvard, the interim president of the Native Women's Association of Canada. "Until [victim's relatives] get that inquiry, and until they see their government taking this issue seriously … there won't be resolution and reconciliation for those families."
Vivian Ketchum, who lived at an Ontario residential school in the early 1970s, said she was physically and sexually abused, including by an older native boy. She said some of the men who perpetrate violence against indigenous women today are "only doing what they were taught as children."
In a section on the overrepresentation of aboriginals in prisons, the report bluntly details the connection, as the commission sees it, between residential schools and violence within the community.
"It should not be surprising that those who were sexually abused in the schools as children sometimes perpetuated sexual violence later in their lives," the report says. "It should not be surprising that those who were taken from their parents and exposed to … disparagement of their culture and families often became poor and sometimes violent parents later in their lives. The consequences for many students and their families were tragic."