Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says reconciliation for survivors of residential school abuse starts in today’s school system.
That way, all Canadians can understand what it was like for those who lived through it, he told a standing-room-only crowd at the University of Manitoba on Thursday.
“Aboriginal people have been oppressed in many ways that people just don’t understand and appreciate, including being traumatized by their experience in residential schools through physical, sexual abuse,” he said, delivering the 2014 Knight Distinguished Visitor lecture.
“Getting people to understand that will allow us to appreciate the significance of putting changes into our curriculum so that there’s a more balanced approach to the teaching of Canadian history and about aboriginal people.”
Sinclair was delivering the 2014 Knight Distinguished Visitor Lecture, titled: If you thought the truth was hard, reconciliation will be harder.
Government-funded, church-run residential schools for aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. More than 130 residential schools were located across the country and the last closed in 1996.
They were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of aboriginal children.
During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there is an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.
On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons to former students, their families, and communities for Canada’s role in the operation of the residential schools.
The TRC was created soon after with a a mandate to learn and inform all Canadians about what happened in the schools.
The commission will document the truth of what happened by relying on records held by those who operated and funded the schools, testimony from officials of the institutions that operated the schools, and experiences reported by survivors, their families, communities and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience and its subsequent impacts.
The TRC final report is due out in June 2015.