It has spent five years gathering testimony from 7,000 survivors about the abuses they suffered in residential schools. Now, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about to release its report on Tuesday and recommend how to heal Canada’s relationship with indigenous people. Here’s what you should know about it.
The TRC is releasing its summary report at 11 a.m. (ET) on Tuesday, the third day of a four-day event in Ottawa marking the end of the commission’s work. There will be official responses from the Assembly of First Nations, the federal government, Canadian churches and other groups at 1 p.m.
A fuller version of the report is being released later this year.
What are residential schools?
From the 1870s, the federal government funded church-run schools to assimilate aboriginal youth into European culture. Students were forbidden from speaking their native languages or practicing their own religions. More than 150,000 children were taken from their homes, suffering sexual and physical abuse and dying by the thousands from diseases such as smallpox, measles and tuberculosis. (No one knows for certain how many died, but Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the TRC, estimates up to 6,000 children were killed.)
Silent no more: Survivors and descendants share their stories
Has Canada apologized for this?
Church groups began issuing apologies in the 1980s for their legacy of running residential schools, and in 2008, the federal government apologized and agreed to compensation for survivors. The landmark class-action settlement between Ottawa, churches and survivors led to the creation of the TRC.
Ottawa’s 2008 apology: Read the full text here
How did the schools harm indigenous people?
The legacy of the schools is evident today, Justice Sinclair says. High poverty rates, a large number of aboriginal children in foster care, a disproportionate number of aboriginals in jail and hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women can all be traced back to residential schools, he suggests.
Was it ‘cultural genocide’?
In a speech last week, Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin described Canada’s aboriginal policies in the 19th and 20th centuries as “cultural genocide,” making her one of the highest-ranking Canadian officials to call it such. Her remarks have stirred debate about what constitutes genocide and how jurists should discuss injustices against aboriginal people that might come before the courts.
Verbatim: Chief Justice McLachlin’s full speech
Ken Coates: McLachlin said what many have long known
Is this the last we’ll hear about residential schools?
Definitely not. Justice Sinclair and native leaders say the commission’s plan for reconciliation will be only the beginning, and that pressing questions will remain unanswered:
Death toll: Exactly how many children died in residential schools? Justice Sinclair says the federal government stopped recording the deaths around 1920, and that even with death certificates from some provinces, the commission doesn’t know the exact number. “We have recommendations around that in the report,” he told The Canadian Press. “We’re going to tell you there are lots of records out there that are missing.”
Medical experiments: In 2013, researcher Ian Mosby published findings that aboriginal children and adults were deliberately starved as part of nutritional experiments by the Canadian government in the 1940s and 1950s. The medical experiments should be properly studied, says Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, who was sent to a residential school when he was five and left when he was nine.
Native youth today: AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde says part of reconciliation is ensuring that aboriginal children have the same quality of life as everyone else. That means giving First Nations control over their educational systems, he argues in Monday’s Globe.
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With reports from The Canadian Press and Globe staff