Tag Archives: Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement

I Went to an Indian Residential School, and My Father was the Principal

Guest post by Mark DeWolf

Indian residential schools

Part of my Truth is my memory of how it was at the residential school during the years my Dad was the Principal

IT’S A COLD BUT sunny day in Edmonton as I cross Jasper Avenue and approach the front doors of the Shaw Centre, the venue for the final national event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Streaming out one door is a large group of non-aboriginal teens, chatting, laughing, doing a bit of good-natured jostling. It’s Education Day at the TRC event, and a good number of local schools have arranged for their students to attend, no doubt hoping that the kids will not only learn about the work of the TRC and the reason for its establishment, but also gain something from the experience of sharing the event with thousands of their First Nations neighbours. Have they? I wonder.

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The Sixties Scoop

Sixties Scoop

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS reported this week that Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson will host a two-day roundtable with twenty people who were part of something now known as the “Sixties Scoop.” For some of you this will be a new and unfamiliar phrase, and you’ll wonder why adopted aboriginal children are calling for an apology from the federal government of Canada. This essay will attempt to inform you on these and other points.

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Teach Canadians the history of residential schools

CANADA’S TRUTH and Reconciliation Commission has received a dab of media attention, much of it for regrettable reasons. In October 2008, the TRC Chair Justice Harry LaForme resigned, citing the political interference of the Assembly of First Nations and the insubordination of his (AFN-appointed) co-commissioners, Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley. This inauspicious beginning yielded to inauspicious mid-points, the Canadian franchise of the TRC brand-name drawing attention for delays and the bureaucratic impediments which hindered its progress. The messenger aside, what about the message? On the final day of a three-day AFN National Justice Forum, in Vancouver, the Commission has been scheduled to release an Interim Report.

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The Crown-First Nations Gathering: a parting of the ways

OVER THE PAST few years I’ve had some off-the-record discussions with senior federal bureaucrats and politicians, folks who are in a position to know of what they speak. In such company the prospect of the politically practicable invariably rises to the river’s surface, through implication or, more often, inferences. Here the word “inference” alludes to the immovable fact that even in those cases where the spirit is willing, the flesh is bound to cabinet confidence and other such protocols of discretion. Hearing what I’ve heard, and seeing what I’ve seen, I’m not at all surprised by the outcome of the recent Crown-First Nation Gathering in Ottawa.

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Gun Talk, Stephen Harper, and the Usefulness of Hate

On the list of things in which I myself am simply incapable of taking interest, but which appear to invoke a great deal of interest among a great many people — a list which includes Hollywood, professional sport, inspirational best-sellers, Twitter, and Lady Gaga — the issue of gun control is rather near the top. Perhaps I lack an otherwise commonplace enzyme, organ, or bit of DNA. In any case I could not care less about the current long-gun registry debate, and it is only the apparent fact that many could not care more which has my baffled attention. Continue reading Gun Talk, Stephen Harper, and the Usefulness of Hate

Of Truth and Reconciliation

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (whose website may be accessed here) is faring poorly of late in the court of public opinion, for reasons that have been widely reported. Foremost concerns have been the acrimonious resignations and dismissals of senior staff, a two-year delay of primary activities such as staffing and office-assembly, the apparent compromising of the Commission’s independence, and the inability of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to compel testimony by means of subpoena, or even to name perpetrators. Many are wondering if the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be able to accomplish anything of value.

One might well begin in fairness by acknowledging the extraordinary burden of the “truth and reconciliation commission” brand name. It’s rather like coming into the world christened Brock Skyconqueror. Even before the business cards were printed and the phones were installed, people were day-dreaming about 1989 — Nelson Mandela and the crumbling walls of the prison, that sort of thing. It may however help the cause of expectation management to familiarize yourself, if you haven’t already, with the precise character of this institution:

2. Establishment, Powers, Duties and Procedures of the Commission. Pursuant to the Court-approved final settlement agreement and the class action judgements, the Commissioners: (a) in fulfilling their Truth and Reconciliation Mandate, are authorized to receive statements and documents from former students, their families, community and all other interested participants ….

This is to say, the Commission’s authority consists in the power to listen, under conditions which actively forbid assignment of responsibility:

[the Commissioners] (g) shall not name names in their events, activities, public statements, report or recommendations, or make use of personal information or of statements which identify a person, without the express consent of that individual, unless that information and/or the identity of the person so identified has already been established through legal proceedings, by admission, or by public disclosure by that individual.

I could go on quoting legalese from Schedule N of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, and no doubt you’d be enthralled by my doing so, but most of the twelve-page document establishing the scope of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is contained in these extracts. The rest of it is amplification, that the Commission shall “adopt methods and procedures which it deems necessary to achieve its goals” and shall “have available the use of such facilities and equipment as is required …,” etc.

Part of the burden of this Commission, and quite a large part, is truth — specifically the expectation that it will root out and present to Canada The Truth of the Indian Residential School System. But since the TRC is neither a public inquiry (see 4. Exercise of Duties: “… the Commission is not to act as a public inquiry”) nor a legal process, truth can only mean personal truth, the truth of one’s convictions and experiences as presented to the Commission. Another term for this is subjective truth.

It’s for me impossible to imagine the Government of Canada, the Churches, and their many respective lawyers agreeing to the establishment of an independent investigative body with quasi-judicial powers. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is precisely what one would expect of a court-mandated, lawyer-negotiated instrument: it is a circumspect compromise between parties, an admission of responsibility which carefully circumscribes consequences.

As an agent of public education it does hold promise. The TRC is mandated to create from its gatherings, as well as from other source documents (voluntarily yielded), “as complete an historical record as possible of the IRS system and legacy.” The importance of this cannot be overstated. But the challenge here is on the distribution, and not on the production, end. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples generated enormous material and testimony related to residential schools, much more than could be contained in its Final Report, but few have seen it. Many Canadians remain ignorant of Canada’s Indian Residential School System, and are therefore ignorant of its consequences and legacy. Without a sustained campaign of public education, which means actually getting the stuff into the public domain, the Canadian public is certain to remain in its bubble on not-knowing. So far the degree of effective public outreach is the principal difference between Canada’s and South Africa’s truth and reconciliation efforts,  according to comments made by South African professor Piet Meiring. But even here, we must acknowledge that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has resources unequal to the work of educating a country. It must have public and private sector partners in this endeavour.

So to recap: there’s a modest potential for some good in this Truth and Reconciliation Commission, only don’t expect an uncovering of Truth and the reconciliation of Canada and Aboriginal peoples. Rather, hope that individual truths will reach the individuals who can be reached, and that some small, personal acts of reconciliation will result. Expectation of anything more is a mere dream.