On December 15, 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final report into the legacy of Indian Residential Schools in Canada. The TRC began its work in 2008, over 6 years ago. Through many controversies and difficulties, this 6 volume report, which is thousands of pages long, has finally been released.
Included within the report are thousands of stories of the deplorable conditions of the residential schools, the abuse, hunger, sickness, fear and powerlessness felt by the six generations of Aboriginal students forced into these schools that were run jointly by churches and the government of Canada from 1883-1996.
Most importantly the TRC has attempted to create a report, which will be accessible to all and not gather dust on some bureaucrat’s desk. According to Mclean’s Magazine, "A centre at the University of Manitoba will become the permanent home for all statements, documents and materials gathered by the commission. It is scheduled to open this summer." All 6 volumes of the TRC report are going to be audio recorded, for those who have difficulties with reading. Some media also claims that the TRC report may be translated into various Indigenous languages; languages that the residential schools were meant to wipe out.
Making sure this TRC report does not get filed in the dustbin of history will be a real challenge in Canada, which has a long history of commissioning reports that no one ever reads, or if they do read them, the government and other institutions never act on these reports’ most important and fundamental findings.
The TRC report is based on testimony given by over 6,750 residential school survivors, and even some who worked in the residential schools. However the report goes beyond just documenting history. Also within this report are connections made to today.
Many people across Canada say things like, ‘this was a long time ago, why can’t native people just get over it?’ Well, it wasn’t very long ago. If you think about it, those schools impacted six generations of Aboriginal people, babies being born today in 2016 are still in the first generation since the closing of the last residential school in 1996. If people across Canada were honest with themselves and really learned about the legacy of residential schools, they wouldn’t dare to keep asking this type of question. What if it was your grandma, your aunty and your father? Wouldn’t it be impacting your family? Wouldn’t it be impacting your community? Could you just ‘get over it’? The TRC report attempts to answer this type of question for the disbelieving Canadian public, along with many others.
In examining the deep connections between the residential school system and the challenges facing Indigenous people across Canada today, the TRC report answers, in short, that the impact of residential schools is felt in all aspects and areas of First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities across Canada today.
The report is not only about uncovering truths about the legacy of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. It is also about reconciliation, mostly between the government of Canada and Indigenous people, but also about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. To that effect, the report includes a 94 point action plan. The document “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action” is a fascinating document to read and think about what it would mean for the daily lives of Indigenous people in Canada if all 94 points were implemented in a real and sustainable way. Take these 4 examples.
Number 7: "We call upon the federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians."
Number 24: “We call upon medical and nursing schools in Canada to require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, and Indigenous teachings and practices. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”
Number 30 "We call upon federal, provincial, and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports that monitor and evaluate progress in doing so."
Number 47: “We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, and to reform those laws, government policies, and litigation strategies that continue to rely on such concepts.”
At the same time, this article is not meant to glorify the TRC report or its 94 point action plan. There are deep flaws in the report, which will be explored in future articles. While the action plan is a relatively solid list of immediate demands, they are in no way revolutionary ones that would lead to the true self-determination for Indigenous nations across Canada. In other words, the 94 calls to action are positive based on the expectations one could have from a commission which was struck with the funding and partial cooperation of the government of Canada.
While the Harper conservative government was unwilling assist in much of the work of the TRC and refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 (they later “endorsed” the declaration in 2010), we have a new government in Canada which is promising to change course. In fact, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to make all 94 points of the TRC report a reality. However, looking at the headlines nationwide and report after report on the dire situation facing Indigenous people in Canada today, we have to ask, when will these 94 recommendations become a reality? And will they really be enough?
In the coming issues of Fire This Time Newspaper will we look deeper into the legacy of residential schools in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the challenges and struggles of Indigenous people in Canada today and the prospects for real justice and self-determination.
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