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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.


What’s happening?

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.

The report: Report to call schools cultural genocide, sources say

Hashtags to follow: #TRC2015, #2reconcile

More: Read the TRC’s calendar of events in Ottawa this week


Children hold letters that spell “Goodbye” at Fort Simpson Indian Residential School in 1922. (J.F. Moran/Library and Archives Canada)

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.)

Context: Bill Curry’s primer on residential schools

Silent no more: Survivors and descendants share their stories


Prime Minister Stephen Harper presents Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine with a statement of apology for residential schools on June 11, 2008. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)


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.

You have been working on recovering from this experience for a long time and in a very real sense, we are now joining you on this journey. The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.
Stephen Harper

Church statements on residential schools: United Church (1986 and 1998); Anglicans (1993); Oblates (1991); Presbyterians (1994); Vatican (2009)

Ottawa’s 2008 apology: Read the full text here


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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.

More: Study links continued abuse of native women, residential schools

Foster care: Manitoba unsure how many foster kids in hotels outside Winnipeg

The missing: Rinelle Harper gives a voice to the missing and murdered

The living: Fear of being written off as another ‘high-risk’ aboriginal woman


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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.

We now understand that the policy of assimilation was wrong and that the only way forward is acknowledgement and acceptance of the distinct values, traditions and religions of the descendants of the original inhabitants of the land we call Canada.
Beverley McLachlin

Verbatim: Chief Justice McLachlin’s full speech

More: Chief Justice ignites debate over treatment of aboriginals

Ken Coates: McLachlin said what many have long known


AFN national chief Perry Bellegarde speaks with Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

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.

... an apology compels action, otherwise it is empty and meaningless. Together, we can and must take action to create a brighter future for us all.
Perry Bellegarde

Stephen Kakfwi, Joe Clark and Paul Martin: An extraordinary opportunity to build a better Canada

Rich Country, Poor Nations: Contributors argue for one big idea that could end the disparity between First Nations and non-natives


With reports from The Canadian Press and Globe staff

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