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Residential-schools commission calls for national awareness campaign

The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The commission that was established to reveal the dark legacy of church-run residential schools for aboriginal children says all Canadians should be made more aware of the sorry chapter in their country's history.

In an interim report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to be released on Friday in Vancouver, Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair says comprehensive awareness efforts are needed to ensure that the rest of Canada fully understands the pain of the students who attended the schools and the parents whose children were taken from them.

Judge Sinclair recommends that every province and territory review its public-school curriculum to assess what, if anything, is being taught about the residential schools and to develop age-appropriate educational material. In addition, the TRC would like to work with the governments to develop unique local campaigns to educate the general public on residential schools.

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After assessing statements and testimony from thousands of survivors and more than 100 former employees of the schools, Judge Sinclair says "we were reminded afresh that all of this happened to little children who had no control over their lives."

About 150,000 first nations, Inuit and M├ętis children were forced to attend the government schools throughout the 1900s. The last one closed outside Regina in 1996.

The interim report follows a scathing assessment from another federally appointed panel on the current state of first-nations education that urged the federal government to bring per-pupil funding into line with students in the provincial systems.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's formal apology in 2008 for the harm done by the residential schools notwithstanding, the TRC wants the federal government to send a letter of apology to all known residential school survivors and display such letters in every secondary school in the country.

The $60-million commission was struck as part of an agreement between the survivors, the Crown and the federal government, and the interim report outlines 20 recommendations.

The TRC also suggested establishing mental-health wellness facilities in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories that specialize in childhood trauma and traditional healing methods that are "critically needed by residential school survivors."

And the TRC says the federal government and churches that ran schools should invest money in reviving traditional aboriginal cultural and linguistic heritages, and that they and other agencies should hand over all relevant documents to the commission so that it can continue its work.

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The commission is halfway through its five-year mandate and has visited a total of about 500 communities in every province and territory. The commissioners will deliver the full report when their mandate expires in 2014.

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