Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Executive Summary

This summary of the 500-page Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Executive Summary was produced to prepare delegates for Learn, Listen, Act: Promoting Reflexivity to Genocide of Indigenous Peoples Conference held in January 2016.

Prepared by: Katarina Todic, Priya Ramesh, Kitty Shepherd, Claire Thompson, Mark Gulla, Moatasim Tungekar, Nabiha Chowdhury, Maria Simeonova

Link to Executive Summary
Link to TRC Findings


  • Definition of cultural genocide: destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group (vs physical genocide and biological genocide)
  • Canadian government policy aimed to “cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada”
    • seizure of land (treaties signed through fraudulent or coercive means)
    • forced relocation of reserves to less valuable land
    • “pass system” to confine people to reserves
    • replacing of existing forms of Aboriginal government with relatively powerless band councils whose decisions government could override and whose leaders it could depose
    • disempowerment of Aboriginal women
    • disenfranchisement from Canadian political, economic, social life
    • residential schools to break children’s link to their culture and identity
      • John A. MacDonald: “When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages. […] He is simply a savage who can read and write.” (1883)
      • Minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott: “Our object is to continue [with the policy of assimilation] until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic.” (1920)
      • Catholic, Anglican, United, Methodist, Presbyterian churches involved; partnered with government until 1969
      • last federally supported residential schools operate until late 1990s
      • institutionalization of child neglect
    • government policy had failed; Aboriginal peoples and cultures badly damaged but continue to exist

Reconciliation at the Crossroads

  • Truth: “not only the truth revealed in government and church residential school documents, but also the truth of lived experiences as told to us by Survivors and others in their statements to this Commission”
  • Reconciliation: coming to terms with events of the past in a manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship among people, going forward
    • “must inspire Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share”
  • most Canadians lack knowledge about Aboriginal history and the roots of these conflicts; this reinforces racist attitudes, makes for poor public policy decisions
  • all levels of society must work together and there must be political will in order to achieve reconciliation
  • for many survivors, the time for reconciliation has not yet arrived and it may never arrive; there must be adequate time for healing to occur in the truth and reconciliation process

What is Reconciliation?

  • TRC mandate describes reconciliation as “an ongoing individual and collective process, and will require commitment from all those affected including First Nations, Inuit and Métis former Indian Residential School (irs) students, their families, communities, religious entities, former school employees, government and the people of Canada. Reconciliation may occur between any of the above groups.”
  • The Commission defines reconciliation as an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships, a critical component of which involves repairing damaged trust by making apologies, providing individual and collective reparations, and following through with concrete actions that demonstrate real societal change; it also involves a revitalization of Indigenous law and legal traditions
  • In many Indigenous languages,, there is no word for “reconciliation” but there are many words, stories, songs and sacred objects that are used to establish relationships, repair conflicts, restore harmony, and make peace
  • reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians also requires reconciliation with the natural world and the practicing of reconciliation (not just talking about it) in their daily lives
  • 2012 TRC interim report encouraged use of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation in Canada

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Commission Activities

  • The TRC (est. 2008) had a two-pronged goal:
    • Reveal a complicated truth about the residential schools that informed us of individual & collective harms against aboriginal people while honouring the courage of aboriginal people as a whole
    • Guide & inspire the truth and healing process which could eventually lead to reconciliation – building a new relationship based on principles of understanding and respect
  • Commission required to hold seven National events that:
    • To gather documents and statements
    • Fund T&R events at community level
    • Made recommendations to federal gov’t regarding commemorative initiatives & funding
    • Set up a permanent research center
    • Issue a report with recommendations
  • Three commissioners appointed in 2008 who resigned shortly after and new commissioners were appointed
    • Indian Residential School Survivor Committee (IRSSC) provided advice and support to commission
    • Commission had full support throughout its mandate from the parties to the Settlement Agreement1
    • Reps from parties helped in various ways and took part in planning and implementing national and regional events
    • Head office in Winnipeg – small office in Ottawa – and satellite offices in Vancouver, Hobbema, Yellowknife
    • An Inuit Sub-Commission was established
  • Several events held over 6 years everywhere
  • National Events most visible (held between June 2010 and March 2014)
  • 238 days of local hearings in seventy seven communities were held
  • Town-halls were sponsored to encourage most visitors to come forward

Statement Gathering

  • Prior to the commission, former students voices were largely missing from historical record
  • Over 6750 statements were received from survivors, families and other individuals
  • Statements gathers through public sharing panels and sharing circles at events and hearings – also through private conversations
  • Commission also made the effort to gather statements from former staff of the schools
  • 96 separate interviews with former staff and children of staff were conducted
  • Federal government & churches were obliged to turn over relevant documents to commission
  • Acquiring these documents was difficult – court direction had to be sought, Canada would not produce necessary documents easily
  • Canada at first went to court with the Commission over having to provide relevant documents, then went a second time over documents pertaining to the Ontario Provincial Police investigation of abuse at an Ontario residential school
    • The court ruled in favour of the commission both times
  • Another document dispute occurred between the Commission & the Independent Assessment Process (IAP)2
    • Statements given through the IAP process were not administered properly, staff had failed to inform Survivor of their rights in regards to what would happen to their statements and the IAP chief adjudicator announced that he was in support of destruction of all documents related to adjudication claims
    • A 15-year retention period is ordered prior to destruction of the documents
    • The Commission has been entrusted with the duty to engage claimants over the next 15 years to decide what to do over their records
    • The Commission is attempting to advance a strong position to prevent the destruction of IAP documents without informed consent of individual survivors

National Events

  • Important milestones over the 6 years
  • Offered a forum for survivors and families – as well as raising public awareness
  • Events guided by tradition knowledge and practise
    • Seven Sacred Teachings of Anishinaabe: Respect, Courage, love, truth, humility, honesty & wisdom served as national event themes
    • Sacred fires lit at beginning of each event, and every day began with a ceremony. Observances followed the cultural protocols, customs, traditions of aboriginal people
  • Education was a key part of the mandate, local schools were asked to take part in a day of learning – in all 15,000 students participated by attending presentations and cultural performances, observing and taking part in panel discussions and workshops
  • Cultural performance were another key element of each national event to showcase the richness of aboriginal culture
  • Commission shared work through live streaming of events and on social media platforms

Witnessing and Expressions of Reconciliation

  • Honorary witnesses were present at several events
  • Canadians were invited to make expressions of reconciliation at events – more than 180 expressions were received

Commemoration and Community Events Funding

  • Settlement Agreement allocated $20 million for commemoration initiatives
    • Commemoration project of national scope was eligible for $2 million.
    • 152 projects to federal Dept of Aboriginal affairs for funding – 143 approved
    • Commissions work inspired other to undertake their own projects
  • Commission issued separate call for proposals for community events – $15000 per event
  • TRC supported 75 community events

Interim Report

  • Feb. 2012 – Commission issued an interim Report
  • Report contained findings and recommendations, short history of schools.
  • These recommendations dealt with gaps in the school curricula, commission made it a priority to advocate for the legacy of the residential schools to be adopted into school curriculums in all jurisdictions **

National Centre for TRC

  • Mandated to create national research centre that will ensure that:
    • Survivors and their families have access to their own history;
    • educators can share the residential school history with new generations of students;
    • researchers can delve more deeply into the residential school experience and legacy;
    • the public can access historical records and other materials to help foster reconciliation and healing; and
    • the history and legacy of the residential school system are never forgotten.

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The History

  • “Train of Tears:” no room for goodbyes, forced kidnapping with the threat of persecution for the parents’ resistance
  • Alien universe: conformed identity and changes to children’s physical and mental identity
  • Assigned a number and English (or French) name
  • Denial of expression: the children who only knew their native languages were unable to express themselves
  • Discipline was harsh and unregulated; abuse was rife and unreported; It was, at best, institutionalized child neglect

The Imperial Context

  • The church and European countries’ imperial infrastructure created this system
  • Indigenous populations seen as an obstacle to achieving imperial dreams
  • Colonialism remains an ongoing process, shaping both the structure and the quality of the relationship between the settlers and Indigenous peoples
  • Colonial justifications
    • God’s mission for Christians to conquer unchristian land and convert its populations
    • Benefits of civilization provided: giving an advanced way of life
    • the idea of terra nullius – no man’s land; doctrine of discovery based on the principle that the indigenous populations” simply occupied, rather than owned, the land”
  • Christian missionaries “committed to making the greatest changes in the culture and psychology of the colonized;” break down traditional communities and cultures in order to “salvage” Aboriginal people
  • Colonization of the Northwest
    • Royal proclamation of 1763 ruled that any future transfer of Indian land would take the form of a Treaty between sovereigns”
    • Aboriginals initially saw the treaties as reciprocal relationship, enabling them “to continue to control their own destinies and retain their culture and identity
    • reserves were created with guarantees but no residential schools were proposed by the government or by the indigenous populations
  • Policy of Assimilation
    • through treaties, Aboriginal populations agree to “cede, release, surrender, and yield” their land to the Crown”
  • The Indian Act, 1876
    • defines who is and isn’t Indian; multiple ways in which Indians can lose status: men who graduate from university; women who marry non-Indian men
    • 1920: government can strip a person of status without person’s consent
  • The Industrial School Initiative
    • in order to have the schools as self-sustaining institutions, the government became involved in the residential school programs
    • European education programs are designed for the urban poor and emphasize strong discipline
    • Government’s aims:
      • equip aboriginal populations for market-based economy
      • increase political assimilation
      • schools as a vehicle for spiritual and cultural change
  • Compelling Attendance
    • 1894 federal government creates regulates for required attendance at residential schools
    • forced abduction of these kids to the boarding schools, with or without warrant
    • 1892 admission form: parents sign and consent to the school principal being the guardian of the child
    • 1920s: children kept until they are 18
  • Métis and Inuit
    • general consensus that Indian children who did not have Indian status must be accepted with no distinctions
    • Metis people were not allowed in regular schools
  • Child Welfare Facilities
    • 1940s onwards schools take on the role as child welfare facilities and orphanages
    • social welfare: intense lack of personal and emotional care
    • 1977: 44% of kids in care in Alberta are Aboriginal; 51% in Saskatchewan, 60% in Manitoba

Road to Closure

  • reconstruction of system in 1968: federal government took direct control of schools in southern Canada
  • the takeover and process to close the schools was in response to the release of the White Paper on Indian Policy, calling for the repeal of the Indian Act, extinguishment of treaties, disintegration of the department
  • 1990s: former students make their experiences aware and the effects of the residential school system

The School Experience

  • Education
    • failure at provide the children with a decent education; some believed it was risky to give the aboriginal children too much education
    • schooling focused on rote memorization of facts
    • churches selected the staff and teachers at these institutions, and prioritized religious assimilation rather than education
    • education was designed to belittle them and show superiority of European ways
  • Half-Day System
    • institutionalized child labour; vocational training in the afternoons after school lessons
    • this was not formally mandated
  • Language and Culture
    • the system was engineered to eliminate the language and culture; it was a cultural genocide
    • the system disrupted families so they could not communicate in their native language
    • children were taught that Native culture was inferior and that being Native was “bad”
    • undermining of Aboriginal identity at a crucial age when children develop their political identities as well
  • Arranging and Blocking Marriages
    • extension of government control into every aspect of these children’s lives
    • arrange marriages between students
    • invasive and basic lack of respect for Aboriginal peoples’ autonomy

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The History, Cont’d.: Food, Health, Discipline, Abuse, Resistance

  • Residential schools did not provide sufficient nourishment for the children, who were routinely underfed as found in accounts both by students and various inspectors; food funding did not account for school location variations, or student diet necessities
  • Staff was properly, and often fed far better quality food, than the students
  • The number of deaths and accidents at residential schools is unknown because of vast number of records that were destroyed, making numbers and names hard to determine; many deaths were also not reported to government; death rates well above the national average
  • The TRC established a National Residential School Student Death Register, the first to official give numbers of residential school deaths
    • Research shows that the peak of the health crisis occurred during the late 19th and early 20th century
  • Residential schools contributed to the undermining of Aboriginal health; numerous tuberculosis crises worsened by refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to support reforms
  • The schools themselves were often in terrible physical condition and a danger to students; many schools lacked even an infirmary and basic medical supplies
  • The bodies of children who died at schools were often not returned to their parents
  • Abuse and severe physical punishments were common; punishments often resulted in severe injury to the child, and many punishments were designed specifically to humiliate the child
  • This abuse did not end until the end of the residential school system
  • There was also rampant sexual abuse at residential schools, which was hidden by the schools and the government; this abuse was often not punished, even in cases where it had been uncovered; perpetrators were not fired in many cases, and rarely faced any criminal charges
  • There are many lingering reports of scarring experienced by the victims of sexual abuse in residential schools
  • Cliques of students were common, and bullying was rampant
  • Sports were a coping mechanism for many students, but were routinely underfunded; arts as well were an underfunded coping mechanism, but one that was often manipulated to quicken assimilation
  • Parents often fought for improvements to the residential system, or refused to send their children into it, but their criticisms were not acknowledged
    • Refusal to allow children to attend was most effective, even closing a few schools due to lack of attendance; this was often punished by authorities by withholding government support to the family; many times, however, this was overridden and the police and government forced the children to attend residential schools
  • Students running away was the most common form of resistance
    • Did result in the deaths of several students
  • Staff was mostly religious members, schools largely run by churches
    • Staff was underpaid, and had a high turnover rate
    • Heavy workloads, and very little time off
    • Despite the better conditions than the students, living conditions took a toll on the staff as well
  • In later years, there have been many lawsuits filed against residential schools and those who ran them. There has been a long trial of attempting apologies and reconciliation
  • The Canadian Government issued a formal apology in 2008, and has continued to work through steps of reconciliation and repayment since (the TRC is a part of this process)

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The Legacy

  • legacy of residential schools continue into the present as reflected in:
    • educational, income, health and social disparities between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginal Canadians
    • racism harboured against Aboriginals and systemic forms of discrimination
    • endangered status of Aboriginal languages
  • disproportionate apprehension of Aboriginal children by child-welfare agencies and imprisonment and victimization a result/legacy of residential school system
  • legacy of residential school system affected survivors, but continued with their families and their children
    • children who were abused become abusers themselves
    • development of addictions, ending up in prison
    • survivors unable to become loving parents
  • Commission: “genuine reconciliation will not be possible until the complex legacy of the schools is understood, acknowledged, and addressed”
  • despite creation of more First Nations child-welfare agencies, disproportionate apprehension of Aboriginal children continues to grow due to lack of funding for culturally appropriate supports
  • Commission focused its recommendations and Call to Action in 5 areas:
    • Child Welfare
      1. residential schools more a “child-welfare system than an educational one”
      2. residential schools followed by the ‘Sixties Scoop’: the wide-scale national apprehension of Aboriginal children by child-welfare agencies
      3. Aboriginal children are significantly overrepresented as subjects of child maltreatment investigations: for every 1,000 First Nations children, there were 140.6 investigations compared with 33.5 for non-Aboriginal children
      4. child-welfare system apprehends too many Aboriginal children while at the same failing to protect them with Aboriginal children being in the system significantly more likely to die
      5. Aboriginal child-welfare agencies more effective than non-Aboriginal agencies but ability to develop culturally appropriate services constrained by limited funding
    • Education
      1. residential school system failed as an education system due to racist underpinnings and objective to strip away Aboriginal identity
      2. has impacted the educational and economic success of Aboriginal people, leading to chronic unemployment, poverty, poor housing, substance abuse, family violence and ill health
        • educational success rates are slowly improving but educational and economic achievements are still dramatically lower than other Canadians
      3. educational reform needs to be based on principles of self-government, a culturally relevant curriculum and stable funding; and must recognize importance of education in strengthening cultural identity of Aboriginal people and providing better basis for success
      4. jurisdictional issues between federal and provincial governments over responsibility of Metis education a continued obstacle
      5. to help close income and employment gap, Aboriginal people need increased access to post-secondary education – only 8.7% of First Nations people, 5.1% of Inuit, 11.7% of Metis have a university degree
    • Language and Culture
      1. right to culture and language and need for remedies for their loss is recognized in international law through the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
        • also recognizes right to revitalize and transmit Aboriginal languages
      2. some survivors refused to teach their children Aboriginal languages and culture because of the negative stigma that had come to be associated with them during their school years
        • this has contributed to the fragile state of Aboriginal languages in Canada
      3. many of the 90 surviving Aboriginal languages are under serious threat of extinction
        • only 14.5% of Aboriginal reporting their first language learned was an Aboriginal language – in 1996 census, it was 26%
        • languages close to extinction because they only have a few remaining speakers of the great-grandparent generation
      4. Canada has not upheld commitments made to fund programs protecting Aboriginal languages and culture
        • funding for existing Aboriginal languages programs is $9.1m in contrast o funding for the Official Languages program at $348.2m
    • Health
      1. disregard for Aboriginal health and wellbeing in residential school system consistent with established patterns of colonialism
        • schools failed to feed and clothe the children properly and housing them in poorly constructed and dangerous building
        • did not properly screen out sick and infectious children, and lacked adequate treatment facilities
      2. children in residential schools were powerless to take healing measures and denied access to Aboriginal ways to deal with the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual elements of ill health
        • isolation of schools also meant children were denied access to Western doctors
      3. denial of health care continues to this day due to isolation of Aboriginal communities and limited access to local health resources
      4. health care is enshrined in UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
      5. significant health care gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginals:
        • infant mortality rate is 4 times the non-Aboriginal rate
        • Aboriginals have twice the rate of diabetes
        • Aboriginals 6 times more likely to suffer alcohol-related deaths; 3 times more likely to suffer drug-induced deaths
        • suicide rate twice that of non-Aboriginal population
          • Aboriginal youth 5-6 times more likely to die by suicide than non-Aboriginal youth
      6. integrated approach to Aboriginal health care which includes Aboriginal health practices and beliefs has power to improve lives of Aboriginals
        • requires long term investment in training more Aboriginal health and social service professionals
    • Justice
      1. children who attended residential schools were often treated as if they were offenders and were often victimized
      2. pattern of disproportionate imprisonment and victimization of Aboriginal peoples continues to he present
      3. redress to the racist and colonial views that underpinned schools call for increased use of Aboriginal justice based on Aboriginal laws and healing practices
      4. residential school survivors failed to find justice through police investigations and criminal prosecutions – turned to civil justice system in the 1990s
        • system only prepared to consider some of the harms suffered such as sexual/physical abuse
          • did not consider claims relating to loss of language, culture, family attachment and violation of Treaty rights to education
          • refused to consider clams survivors brought on behalf of their parents and children; and to provide remedies for collective harms caused to Aboriginal communities
      5. civil lawsuits were made worse due to the fact that many lawyers did not have adequate cultural, historical or psychological knowledge to deal with painful memories survivors were forced to reveal
      6. civil lawsuits of 1990s combined into class action lawsuits with the Indian Schools Residential Schools Settlement Agreement being finalized and approved in 2006
        • included a Common Experience Payment (CEP) for everyone who attended one of the residential schools
        • included Independent Assessment Process (IAP) to pay compensation to those who suffered sexual or serious physical assaults
        • not all survivors of residential schools included in the Settlement Agreement such as day school students, Metis students and students in Nfld.
      7. overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in prison continues to expand with Aboriginals making up 28% of admissions to sentenced custody in 2011-12, an increase from 1995-96 when it was 16%
        • over incarceration result from interplay of factors including the intergenerational legacy of residential schools and systemic bias in the Canadian justice system
      8. those who experienced violence in residential schools frequently became accustomed to violence later in life
        • some became poor and violent parents
        • some turned to alcohol and drugs as a means to cope and try to forget
      9. fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) a link between substance abuse and over-incarceration
        • FASD is a permanent brain injury caused when a woman’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy affects her fetus
        • disabilities associated with FASD include memory impairments, problems with judgement and abstract reasoning, and poor adaptive functioning
        • those with FASD have much higher rate of criminal involvement than those without FASD
      10. studies show Aboriginal culture and spirituality can contribute to the healing of inmates with recidivism rate for Aboriginal offenders who participated in spiritual activities lower
        • few services exist in correctional facilities
      11. overrepresentation of youth in youth justice system: 49% of Aboriginal girls and 36% of Aboriginal boys made up those in custody
        • greater involvement with crime due to the legacy of residential schools
      12. overrepresentation of Aboriginal women and girls among crime victims as they are more likely than other women to experience risk factors for violence
        • most disturbing aspect is the extraordinary number of Aboriginal women who have been murdered or reported missing
        • link between missing and murdered Aboriginal women and the many harmful background factors in their lives
      13. any strategy aimed at reducing Aboriginal offending and victimization must include recognition of the rights of Aboriginal communities to develop their own justice systems

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The Challenge of Reconciliation

Setting the Context

  • Canada has a “history of colonialism in relation to Aboriginal peoples”; this “history and its policies of cultural genocide and assimilation have left deep scars” on Aboriginal communities and Canadian society as a whole
  • Reconciliation is in the best interest of all of Canada, and it is a multi-generational process. It is necessary to resolve ongoing conflicts between Aboriginal peoples and institutions of the country, and in order for Canada to maintain its claim to be a leader in the protection of human rights
  • The reconciliation process began in the 1980s with the church apologies, and was followed by the “findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples” and the “court recognition of the validity of the Survivors’ stories… It culminated in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement” and the prime minister’s apology in 2008

Historical Context

  • Aboriginal peoples always remembered the original relationship they had with early Canadians; one of mutual support, respect, and assistance as confirmed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaties with the Crown
  • Legacies of the residential schools, the Indian Act, and the Crown’s failure to keep its treaty promises have damaged the trust and relationship between Aboriginal communities and the Government of Canada
  • Reconciliation requires “apologies, reparations, the relearning of Canada’s national history, public commemoration” as well as “real social, political, and economic change”
  • Governments, churches, educational institutions, and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking concrete action on reconciliation
  • “As Commissioners, we believe that reconciliation is about respect. That includes both self-respect for Aboriginal people and mutual respect among all Canadians”. (185)

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

  • In response to the Oka crisis The Government of Canada created a Royal Commission to look into the state of affairs of Aboriginal peoples in Canada; it provided a glimpse into just how bad things had become
  • 1996: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) put forward a vision of reconciliation
  • The Report concluded that “assimilation was a complete failure”, and that a new relation must be established by looking to historical Treaty relationships
  • The new relationship must be based on “mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing, and mutual responsibility”
  • The Royal Commission emphasized that recognition of the Aboriginal right to self-determination is essential to a robust upholding of Canada’s constitutional obligations and compliance with international human rights law
  • The creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was an attempt to resolve the thousands of lawsuits brought against the government for cases of historical abuse. However, Canadian government actions continue to be unilateral and divisive
  • The Government appears to believe that reconciliation entails Aboriginal peoples’ acceptance of the reality and validity of Crown Sovereignty and parliamentary supremacy
  • Aboriginal people see reconciliation as an opportunity to affirm their own sovereignty and return to the ‘partnership’ ambitions they held after confederation
  • The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation
  • 2007: United Nations (UN) adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • 2010: Canada adopts it after initially having refused to do so
  • S. James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: “Self-determination requires confronting and reversing the legacies of empire, discrimination, and cultural suffocation… to build a social and political order based on relations of mutual understanding and respect”
  • National action plans, strategies, and other concrete measures will provide the necessary structural and institutional frameworks for ensuring that Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination is realized
  • The Commission therefore believes that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the appropriate framework for reconciliation in twenty-first-century Canada
  • Aboriginal peoples’ right to self-determination must be integrated into Canada’s constitutional and legal framework and civic institutions

Doctrine of Discovery

  • European states relied on the Doctrine of Discovery and the concept of terra nullius to justify colonization
  • Doctrine forms legal basis on which British Crown claimed sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and justified the extinguishment of their inherent rights to their territories, lands, and resources
  • Doctrine’s influence in Western law and its destructive consequences
  • Indigenous peoples commonly regard land rights as culturally and religiously significant
  • 2010: Anglican Church of Canada was the first of the Settlement Agreement churches in Canada to reject the Doctrine of Discovery
  • 2012: Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) also repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery
  • 2012: Executive of the General Council of the United Church “agreed unanimously to disown the Doctrine of Discovery”
  • Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery will not necessarily gives lead to the invalidation of Crown sovereignty. The Commission accepts that there are other means to establish the validity of Crown sovereignty

Treaties: Honouring the Past and Negotiating the Future

  • Treaties between Indigenous nations and the Crown established the legal and constitutional foundation of this country
  • Without Treaties, Canada would have no legitimacy as a nation
  • Treaties are a model for how Canadians can live respectfully and peacefully together on the lands we share

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 and Treaty of Niagara, 1764

  • Aboriginal peoples and the Crown have interpreted the intent of the Treaties differently
  • Government officials have viewed the Treaties as legal mechanisms by which Aboriginal peoples ceded and surrendered their lands to the Crown
  • Aboriginal peoples understand Treaties as a sacred obligation that commits both parties to maintain respectful relationships and share lands and resources equitably
  • 1763: King George III issued a Royal Proclamation by which the British Crown first recognized the legal and constitutional rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada
  • 1764: Royal Proclamation was ratified by over 2,000 Indigenous leaders who had gathered at Niagara
  • Royal Proclamation of 1763, in conjunction with the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, established the legal and political foundation of Canada and the principles of Treaty making based on mutual recognition and respect

Revitalizing Indigenous Law: Truth, Reconciliation, and Access to Justice

  • Canadian law was used by Canada and deter reconciliation
  • Parliament’s creation of assimilative laws and regulations facilitated the oppression of Aboriginal cultures
  • Aboriginal people came to see law as a tool of government oppression
  • Canada’s civil laws worked to extinguish indigenous languages and forced the assimilation of children through removal from their families and communities; this can be deemed an act of genocide under Article 2(e) of the UN’s Convention on Genocide
  • Court decisions since the repatriation of Canada’s Constitution in 1982 have given hope to Aboriginal people that the recognition and affirmation of their existing Treaty rights
  • Substantive changes are required within the criminal legal system and in relation to Indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories, and natural resources; political self-determination; and community well-being
  • 2013: UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples issued a study: “Access to Justice in the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”
  • Study concludes that right to self-determination is a central right for indigenous peoples from which all other rights flow. States should recognize and provide support for indigenous peoples’ own justice systems. These conclusions are consistent with Commission’s the view
  • Law must cease to be a tool for the dispossession and dismantling of Aboriginal societies
  • Aboriginal people currently regard Canadian law as a morally and politically malignant force
  • Aboriginal peoples need to become the law’s architects and interpreters where it applies to their collective rights and interests
  • The right of self-government cannot reasonably be exercised by small, separate communities. It should be exercised by groups of a certain size—groups with a claim to the term ‘nation’

Reconciliation and accountability: Victims of Violence; Holders of Rights

  • Survivors are more than just victims of violence. They are also holders of Treaty, constitutional, and human rights
  • Through lived experience, they have gained deep insights into what victims of violence require to heal and how to prevent such violence from happening again
  • 1990s onward, Aboriginal people and their supporters had been calling for a public inquiry into the residential school system. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was not established because of any widespread public outcry, demanding justice for residential school Survivors
  • Survivors wanted a formal apology from Canada that acknowledged wrongdoing. Due to their efforts, the prime minister delivered a national apology in 2008.
  • For Aboriginal peoples, the protection and exercise of their right to self-determination is the strongest antidote to further violation of their rights

Moving from Apology to Action

  • Reconciliation is a multi-generational journey that involves all Canadians
  • Apologies are important to victims of violence and abuse. Apologies have the potential to restore human dignity and empower victims to decide whether they accept an apology or forgive a perpetrator
  • Children and grandchildren of Survivors needed to hear the truth about what happened to their parents and grandparents in the residential schools
  • Survivors needed to hear government and church officials admit that the cultural, spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that they suffered was wrong
  • Official apologies from Canada and the churches sent important message to Canadians that Aboriginal peoples had suffered at the hands of the state and church institutions
  • Reparations for historical injustices must include not only apology, financial redress, legal reform, and policy change, but also the rewriting of national history and public commemoration

Canada’s Apology

  • June 11, 2008: Day of the Apology
  • Aboriginal peoples have unique legal and constitutional rights. These rights arose from their initial occupation and ownership of the land, and were affirmed in the Royal Proclamation of 1763
  • Several key decisions by Canadian courts have established that the federal government must always uphold the honour the treaties in its dealings with Aboriginal peoples:
    • R. v. Sparrow (1990)
    • Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests) (2004)
    • Manitoba Métis Nation Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General) (2013)
  • For Treaty peoples or First Nations, the unilateral imposition of the Indian Act represents a fundamental breach of the Crown’s Treaty obligations
  • The federal Department of Justice has two important, and potentially conflicting, roles when it comes to Aboriginal peoples. Upholding the honour of the Crown, and disputing a legal challenge to an official’s or department’s action or decision, can sometimes give rise to conflicting legal obligations
  • Canadian governments and their law departments have a responsibility to discontinue acting as though they are in an adversarial relationship with Aboriginal peoples and to start acting as true fiduciaries
  • Canada’s Department of Justice must be more transparent and accountable to Aboriginal peoples
  • National reconciliation involves respecting differences and finding common ground to build a better future together
  • All levels of government must make a new commitment to reconciliation and accountability

Church Apologies

  • Christian teachings were a fundamental aspect of residential schools
  • Aboriginal children were taught to reject the spiritual ways of their parents and ancestors
  • Plenty of evidence to support our conclusion that spiritual violence was common in residential schools
  • Christians in Canada, in the name of their religion, inflicted serious harms on Aboriginal children, their families, and communities was in fundamental contradiction to what they purported to be their core beliefs
  • 1986-1998: All four Settlement Agreement churches offered apologies or statements of regret in one form or another, for their attempts to destroy Indigenous cultures, languages, spirituality
  • Roman Catholic Church in Canada does not have a single spokesperson with authority to represent all of its many dioceses. result has been a patchwork of apologies or statements of regret.
  • Pope has not yet made a clear and emphatic public apology in Canada for the abuses perpetrated in Catholic-run residential schools throughout the country
  • For more than a century, thousands of Aboriginal children were subjected to spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in Catholic-run residential schools, but the Pope has yet to issues a formal apology
  • Apologies mark only a beginning point on pathways of reconciliation; the proof of their authenticity lies in putting words into action

Honouring Indigenous Spirituality

  • Many Indigenous peoples who no longer subscribe to Christian teachings have found the reclaiming of their Indigenous spirituality important to their healing and sense of identity
  • 2013: General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Canada in 2013 endorsed a report on the development of a theological framework for Aboriginal spirituality within the church
  • The Anglican Church has developed a vision for a self-governing Indigenous church to coexist within the broader institutional structure of the church
  • 2006: United Church has also examined its theological foundation. A 2012 follow up report aimed to re-envision the church’s theological purpose and restructure its institutions by shifting from a theology of empire to a theology of partnership
  • 2015: United Church of Canada issued a statement, “Affirming Other Spiritual Paths”
  • Unlike the Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church in Canada’s approach to Indigenous spirituality has emphasized decision making at the local diocesan level

Church Healing and Reconciliation Projects

  • 1990: The four Settlement Agreement churches began allocating specific funds for community-based healing and reconciliation projects
  • They agreed to provide and manage funds specifically dedicated to healing and reconciliation. All the churches established committees, including Aboriginal representatives, to review and approve projects

Calls to Action

  • Federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments must fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation
  • Federal government must develop a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Government on behalf of Canadians must develop Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown, in consultation with Aboriginal communities
  • Parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to develop and sign a Covenant of Reconciliation that would identify principles for working collaboratively to advance reconciliation
  • Federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments must repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and lands (Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius) and must reform those laws, policies, and litigation strategies that rely on such concepts.
  • Church parties to the Settlement Agreement, and all other faith groups who have not already done so, must formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so must repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples (Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius)
  • Federal government, with Aboriginal collaboration, must fund the establishment of Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice
  • Federal Government, obligated by its fiduciary responsibility, must develop a policy of transparency by publishing legal opinions it develops and upon which it acts or intends to act, in regard to the scope and extent of Aboriginal and Treaty rights
  • Aboriginal title claims are accepted once the Aboriginal claimant has established occupation over a particular territory at a particular point in time, and once Aboriginal title has been established, the burden of proving any limitation on any rights arising from the existence of that title shifts to the party asserting such a limitation
  • Parliament of Canada, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, must enact legislation to establish a National Council for Reconciliation. It must be an independent, national, oversight body
  • Federal Government must provide multi-year funding for the National Council for Reconciliation to ensure that it has the financial, human, and technical resources required to conduct its work
  • All levels of government must provide annual reports or any current data requested by the National Council for Reconciliation so that it can report on the progress towards reconciliation
  • Prime minister of Canada must formally respond to the report of the National Council for Reconciliation by issuing an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report, and outline the government’s plans for advancing the cause of reconciliation
  • Federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments must provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples
  • Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic- run residential schools
  • Church parties to the Settlement Agreement must develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization
  • Leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous organizations, must develop on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality, the history of residential schools and the roles of the church parties in that system… and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence
  • Church parties to the Settlement Agreement must establish permanent funding for Aboriginal people

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The Challenge of Reconciliation, Cont’d.

Education for Reconciliation

  • The current educational institutions has contributed to the troubled relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians based on what the institutions have taught Canadian and what they have failed to teach
  • Along with schools and postsecondary institutions, dialogue forums and public history institutions can help with educating Canadians for reconciliation
  • Education can enhance Canadians on historical knowledge and remove the ignorance and racism towards Aboriginals
  • Prior to 1970, textbooks portrayed Aboriginals as savage warrior or onlookers who were irrelevant relative to other important historic events in Canada
  • Near the 1980s, Aboriginals were given a more positive light but still minimal
  • Aboriginal poverty and social dysfunction in their communities were mentioned heavily but there were no explanations provided on how they ended up in that situation
  • This lead to Aboriginals being blamed for the situations they were in when in reality the poverty and social dysfunction was caused by historical events
    • There were external causes but never mentioned
  • Aboriginals have been characterized as a social and economic problem that must be solved
  • By 1990s, textbooks talked about the role of Aboriginals are protestors advocating for their rights but Canadians failed to understand the significance of these rights
  • Canadians need to learn any aspects about Aboriginal history, culture and language from the very beginning
  • Reconciliation is all about respect:
    • It is the public education system’s responsibility to influence Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children behaviour- how to speak to each other respectfully
  • The Commission’s 2012 Interim Report Three Recommendations directed at Provincial and Territorial Governments:
    • The Commission recommends that each provincial and territorial government undertake a review of the curriculum materials currently in use in public schools to assess what, if anything, they teach about residential schools.
    • The Commission recommends that provincial and territorial departments of education work in concert with the Commission to develop age-appropriate educational materials about residential schools for use in public schools.
    • The Commission recommends that each provincial and territorial government work with the Commission to develop public education campaigns to inform the general public about the history and impact of residential schools in their respective jurisdictions.
  • In July 2014, an update was given on the status of curriculum-development commitments across the country and progress has been made but not all provinces and territories have made it mandatory and not all courses cover the subject in depth
  • The Northwest Territories and Nunavut have began to develop and implement mandatory curriculum about residential schools for all high school students, in engaging Survivors directly in the development of new materials, and in ensuring that teachers receive appropriate training and support, including direct dialogues with Survivors
  • Yukon has also started the process to adopt this structure
  • Alberta has launched its own initiative to develop mandatory curriculum on treaties and residential schools for all students
  • On July 9 2014, the CMEC announced that education ministers
    • agreed to additional pan-Canadian work in Aboriginal education to take place over the next two years, which will focus on four key directional ideas: support for Aboriginal students interested in pursuing teaching as a career; development of learning resources on Canadian history and the legacy of Indian Residential Schools that could be used by teacher training programs; sharing of promising practices in Aboriginal education; and ongoing promotion of learning about Indian Residential Schools in K–12 education systems.”
  • No religious school that receives public funding should be allowed to teach one religion to the complete exclusion of all other religions
    • They require to teach at least one course on comparative religious studies which includes a segment on Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and practices

Transforming the Education System: Creating Respectful Learning Environments

  • Curriculum about residential schools must be part of a broader history education that integrates First Nations, Inuit, and Metis voices, perspectives and experiences and build common ground between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples
  • Education system needs to be built in a way to rejects racism and treats Aboriginal and Euro-Canadian knowledge systems with equal respect
  • The teachers in this program need to have the necessary skills, supports and resources to teach Canadian students about the residential school system in a way that provides constructive dialogue and promotes mutual respect
  • Comprehensive education on history will help students make ethical judgements about the actions of their ancestors while recognizing that the moral sensibilities of the past may be different from the present world
    • They should be able to make informed decisions about what responsibilities society has to address historical injustice
    • This ensures future citizens are knowledgeable and caring about the injustices of the past as these relate to their own futures

Gathering New Knowledge: Research on Reconciliation

  • It is necessary for federal, provincial and territorial governments, universities and funding agencies to invest in and support new research on reconciliation
  • At University of Victoria, Centre for Youth and Society, seven Aboriginal youth researchers started a digital storytelling project called “Residential Schools Resistance Narratives: Strategies and Significance for Indigenous Youth”
    • This project focused on how resistance and resilience played in residential schools and also allowed them to reflect on their identities and roles within their families and communities
  • Research provides insights and practical examples of why and how educating Canadians on diverse concepts can help heal and transform the social change.
  • Collaborations provide the structure to document and report the findings on reconciliation to a broader audience

TRC Public Education Forums: Education Days and Youth Dialogues

  • The Commission believes that for a strong foundation of reconciliation is it depends on the achievement of individual self-respect and mutual respect between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians
  • Children and youth must have a strong voice in developing reconciliation policy, programs and practices into the future
  • It is important to develop appropriate public education strategies to support the on-going involvement of children and youth in age-appropriate reconciliation initiatives and projects at community, regional and national levels
  • Youth involvement indicates that the youth cares about the past greatly
  • Youth Forums and Dialogues are a vital component of education for reconciliation
  • Non-profit organizations can play a key role in providing ongoing opportunities for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth to participate in intercultural dialogue and work actively together to foster reconciliation

Role of Canada’s Museums and Archives in Education for Reconciliation

  • Adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has resulted in the growing recognition that Indigenous people have the right to be self-determining peoples and that the state has a duty to protect the Indigenous knowledge and cultural rights
  • States also have to ask for informed consent from the Indigenous people if they are to perform any action that will affect them
  • States have to take effective measures to protect the rights of Indigenous people or to make reparations where traditional knowledge or cultural rights have been violated
  • National museums and archives have a huge role in this

Canada’s National Museums

  • Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights have the responsibility to retell the story of Canada’s past so that it reflects not only diverse cultures, history and experiences of First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples, but also the collective violence and historical injustices that they have suffered at the hands of the state

Canadian Museum of History

  • Memory and Commemoration is a key research theme
  • First Peoples is another key research theme with a particular focus on Aboriginal histories
    • Aboriginal history is a huge and central part in understanding Canadian history overall
  • It is important to show both the positive and negative aspects of Canadian history, demonstrating the relevance of the past to the present, which includes marginalized voices and perspectives, encouraging collaboration and making connections between personal and public history

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights

  • Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg mandated to “explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others, and to encourage reflection and dialogue”
  • There needs to be a collaboration between First Nations, Inuit, and Metis advisors, Elders Advisory Council, Aboriginal Youth Council, and the broader Aboriginal community when it comes to planning and programs developed by the museum
  • The Commission believes national reconciliation as the most suitable framework to guide commemoration as a historical benchmark in Canada’s history
  • It is important to develop historically literate citizens who understand why and how the past is relevant to their own lives and the future of the country
  • · Museums have an ethical responsibility towards national reconciliation
    • This can be accomplished by representing the history of residential schools and of Aboriginal peoples in ways that invite multiple perspectives, facilitate empathy, mutual respect and a desire for reconciliation that is rooted in justice
  • The Canadian Museum of History and Human Rights are working together with Aboriginal peoples, regional and loal museums and the Canadian Museums Association should take a leadership role in making reconciliation a central theme in the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 2017
  • Local and regional museums can provide the opportunity for Canadians to examine the historical injustices suffered by First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples
  • Through exhibits, education outreaches and research programs all museums are well positioned to contribute to education for reconciliation

Canada’s National Archives: Sharing Aboriginal History Versus Keeper of State Records

  • The development of a national strategy will be done in consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal communities and organizations
  • ibrary and Archives Canada has developed various guides and resources related to researching Aboriginal heritage
  • There is tension between LAC and Aboriginal peoples
  • Historical records are maintained in LAC where they have been used evidence by Aboriginal claimants and Crown defendants in litigation involving residential schools, Treaties, Aboriginal title and rights cases and land claims
  • AC archivists brought binders of residential school photographs to the Learning Places at TRC’s National Events where Survivors and others could see them and get copies

The TRC Seeks Full Access to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Records

  • Gaining access to archival government records about the administration of the residential school system is crucial to the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
  • It will help understand the history of government policy and practice in relation to Aboriginal peoples in general and residential schools
  • Also allow the public to be able to access it
  • The Commission’s’ attempts to gain access to the records were blocked by bureaucracy and legal matters
  • April 2012, the Commission was forced to file a “Request for Direction” in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice regarding access to relevant federal records in national archives
  • Issue was Canada’s obligations under the Settlement Agreement
  • Different organizations and different departments had different views on how the TRC should acquire these records
    • LAC’s view: Their role is to be the neutral keeper of the government records, and help facilitate and empower federal government departments to canvass their own archival holdings
    • Government’s view: Departments need to provide the TRC only with departmental researcher status to access their archived documents at LAC so that the Commission could conduct its own research
  • Result: the Onus of responsibility to produce LAC documents went to TRC

Archives and Access to Justice

  • These records vital to understand how human rights violations occurred and their subsequent impacts
  • Access to and protection of historical records have been instrumental in advancing the rights of Indigenous peoples and documenting the state’s wrongful actions

Missing Children, Unmarked Graves and Residential School Cemeteries

  • There was never any effort in accessing records regarding to the deaths at residential schools
  • The National Residential School Student Death Register is the first national effort
  • June 2012, Chief Coroners and Medical Examiners of Canada approved a resolution to support the TRC’s Missing Children Project by making available to the Commission their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children under the care of residential school authorities
  • 2014, BC, Alberta, NS, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Nunavut have responded to the Commission’s request for records
  • Residential school cemeteries and burial sites that the Commission documented are abandoned, disused and vulnerable to disturbance
  • Call to Action
    • o “We call upon the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, churches, Aboriginal communities, former residential school students, and current landowners to develop and implement strategies and procedures for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried. This is to include the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children.”
  • As infrastructure and resource development increases so do the risk of damage to undocumented residential school cemeteries
  • Information is hindered by limited documentation, unclear jurisdictional responsibility, and uncoordinated consolidation of information
  • Solution: Registry of Residential School Cemeteries available online
    • Include: idenitification, duration and affiliation of each cemetery; legal description; current land ownership and condition; location coordinates
    • Physical investigations of cemeteries require consultation with interested communities
  • Locally held information can be used to verify and correct archival information.
  • Fixing this system will assist in the reconciliation and healing
  • Also, help Survivors, families and communities to reconstruct their family and community histories

The Limitations of Archives

  • The Settlement Agreement Church archives have in some degree helps make their residential school records more accessible to Survivors, families and communities, researcher and general public

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation: An Emerging Model

  • Purpose is to hold all the historical and newly created documents and oral statements related to residential school and make them accessible
  • Survivor-centred model of education for reconciliation
  • Implementing a new approach to public education, research and record keeping the centre will serve as a public memory “site of science”, bearing permanent witness to Survivors’ testimonies and the history and legacy of the residential school system
  • Will share how residential school era is understood and remembered.
  • To ensure history doesn’t repeat itself
  • Will make decisions and provide advice on ceremonies and protocols and establish a Survivor’s Circle
  • “It will be well positioned to take a leadership role in forging new directions in residential school- and Indigenous rights-based research, establishing new standards and benchmarks for archival and museum policy, management, and operations, based on Indigenous and Western principles and best practices.”
  • Signing of a Trust Deed with the university marks the transfer of a sacred trust
  • The promise made to Survivor from the Commission

Public Memory: Dialogue, the Arts and Commemoration

  • Public memory is important to recognize that the transmission of that collective memory from generation to generation of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis individuals, families and communities was impaired by the actions of who ran residential schools
  • Reshaping national history is a public process, which occurs through discussion, sharing and commemoration
  • Public memory changes over time as new understandings, dialogues, artistic expressions and commemorations emerge
  • The process of remembering can help bring people to question the limited version of history

Dialogue: Ceremony, Testimony and Witnessing

  • The Commission has made Aboriginal oral history, legal traditions and memory practices – ceremony protocols, and the rituals of storytelling and testimonial witnessing- central to TRC’S National Events, Community Hearings, forums and dialogues
  • The Commission’s proceedings themselves constitute an oral history record
  • Sacred ceremonies and protocols were performed and followed at all TRC events
  • Elders and traditional healers ensured that a safe environment was created for truth sharing, apology, healing and acts of reconciliation

The Power of Ceremony

  • The ceremonies must be recognized and honoured as an integral, vital, ongoing dimension of the truth and reconciliation process
  • Bridges culture between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginals
  • They are an affirmation of human dignity
  • Ceremonial rituals have three functions in the peacemaking process:
    • Creates a safe space for people to interact and learn as they take part in the ceremony
    • A way for people to communicate non-verbally and process their emotions
    • Creates an environment where change is made possible; worldviews, identities and relationships with others are transformed
  • The Commission made ceremonies the spiritual and ethical framework for the public education work creating a safe space for sharing life stories and bearing testimonial witness to the past for the future
  • The National Events were designed to inspire reconciliation and shape individual and collective memory by demonstrating the core values through the Seven Sacred Teachings
  • The Commission instructed a ceremonial transfer of knowledge
    • Bentwood Box by Luke Marston was a symbol of this transfer

Life Stories, Testimonies, Witnessing as Teachings

  • In order to know the truth, it is important that the Commission’s work be able to hear the stories of Survivors and their families
  • By providing testimonies to the TRC, Survivors reclaimed their place as members of intergenerational communities of memory
  • Narrative through public dialogue can strengthen civic capacity for accountability and do justice to victims
  • Through the use of ceremony and testimony to remember, witness and commemorate, citizens learn how to put the principles of accountability, justice and reconciliation into everyday practice.- Active agents in the process of truth and reconciliation
  • Stories and teachings rooted in relationship for Indigenous people

TRC Honourary Witnesses

  • To ensure the reconciliation is an ongoing process the Commission decided a public education and advocacy strategy to engage high-profile supporters
  • These were known as Honorary Witnesses in a public ceremony at National Events
  • They present accomplished and influential leaders from all walks of life, now as ambassadors
  • The Commission’s 7 National Events provide a respectful space for public dialogue

The Arts: Practicing Resistance, Healing and Reconciliation

  • Art provides a creative way to break silences, transform conflicts and mend the damaged relationships of violence, oppression and exclusion
  • Helps restore human dignity and identity in the case of injustice
  • Can also invite people to explore different world views
  • Before TRC, there were a growing body of working including Survivor’s memoirs and works of fiction by well-known Indigenous authors, films and plays
  • Through their world, Indigenous artists seek to resist and challenge the cultural understandings of settler-dominated versions of Canada’s past and its present reality
  • Sharing intercultural art is a potential source of healing and transformation for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples
  • The Commission acknowledges that funding for community-based healing projects is an urgent priority for Aboriginal communities
  • Several art exhibits took place during the National Events
  • Statements came in the form of art when certain individuals found it too difficult to speak about their past so they presented through art
  • The Commission funded or supported several arts-related projects

Residential School Commemoration Projects

  • The Settlement Agreement established a fund for projects that would help commemorate the residential school experience; the agreement has assigned a role of such projects to TRC
  • 20 million set aside for Aboriginal communities to undertake community, regional & national projects
  • The Commission identified 3 elements of the commemoration process:
    • Projects were Survivor driven
    • Commemorations would forge connection b/w Aboriginal family & community memory to Canada’s public memory
    • Promoting self-determination by incorporating Indigenous oral history & memory practices
  • Commemorating life stories of Survivors can symbolize hope for the future
  • Grand Council of Treaty 3 brought together Survivors, Elders & others in Kenora, ON for final ceremony marking the commemoration of each site of the five residential schools located in the territory

Bearing Witness to the Child: Children’s Art from Alberni Residential School

  • Respecting Indigenous protocols & practices of ceremony, testimony and witnessing can breathe life, healing & transformation into public memory
  • Alberni residential school paintings donated to UBC in 2009 by artist Robert Aller
  • Aller volunteered his time to teach students art classes at the residential school; hired by Indian Affairs to teach b/w 1956-1987
  • Aller saw art as a way to free students from their everyday environment
  • Over 750 paintings in the collection, 36 from Alberni
  • Dr. Andrea Walsh reached out Survivors, Elders & chiefs in Port Alberni in Nuu-chah-nulth territory & under their direction & with their collaboration brought the artwork to the Learning Place at TRC’s Victoria Regional Event
  • Community later rec’d commemoration project funding to hold a traditional feast in Port Alberni (Mar 30, 2013) to reunited artists & their families with the paintings
  • Survivors who wished to have their paintings back had them, the others are housed and cared for at the Uni of Victoria
  • Survivor & Hereditary Chief Lewis George shared that the art classes probably saved from sexual abuse by convicted pedophile Arthur Plint – who taught at Alberni
  • May 2013 – special exhibit To Reunite, To Honour, To Witness displayed Alberni residential school paintings
    • Documenting the return of the children’s paintings was a part of the reconnecting individual, family & community memory & educated the public about history & legacy of residential schools

Canada’s Public Commemoration Initiative

  • Federal gov’ts national commemoration initiative described as “expression of reconciliation” was the commission of a stained-glass window entitled Looking Ahead designed by Metis artist Christi Belcourt
    • Depicts history of residential schools, cultural resilience of Aboriginal peoples, & hope for the future; installed in the Centre Block of Fed. Parliament Bldg. & unveiled on Nov 26, 2012
    • Inspiration behind the design came from the Survivors themselves
    • The windows of the residential schools evoked both good & bad memories for Survivors; a commemorative window seemed liked a fitting monument serving as a beacon of hope
  • Commemoration in highly visible public bldgs creates openings for dialogue
  • Commission believes the fed gov’t must do more to ensure nat’l commemoration of the history & legacy of residential schools;
    • Commission quotes the Joinet-Orentlicher Principles adopted by the UN that states have the responsibility to take measure to ensure collective violence against a targeted group of people does not reoccur; states have the duty to “remember”
  • UN Special Rapporteur in Cultural Rights, Farida Shaheed – issued a report concluding that state authorities have a key role in the commemoration process as the state is responsible for managing public space & has the capacity to maintain monuments & develop long-term nat’l commemoration policies
    • Report recommended that by encouraging people’s direct engagement & educational activities; cultural dimension of memorial processes should be taken into consideration
    • Artists play critical role in healing & commemoration
  • · Fundamental tensions exists b/w goals of Aboriginal people’s & Canada
    • Survivors focus on individual & collective healing instead of preserving the school bldgs. (as Western heritage values dictate conservation & preservation)
    • Residential school structures were demolished by Survivors & their families to “cleanse & allow the trapped spirits to finally be freed”; this would be in direct conflict Canadian heritage goals
  • Reconciliation would require a paradigm shift in Canada’s heritage values, policies & practices

Call to Action

  • In collaboration, the fed gov’t & Survivors, Aboriginal orgs & arts communities should develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage & commemoration.
  • Calling on the gov’t to establish statutory holiday – National Day for Truth & Reconciliation to honour Survivors
  • Calling on gov’t to commission & install a publically accessible, highly visible, Residential School Nat’l Monument in Ottawa
  • Establish a Residential Schools Monument in each capital city
  • Calls on Canada Council for the Arts to establish a strategy for Indigenous & non-indigenous artists to produce works together
  • CBC/Radio-Canada has provided a minimum level of Aboriginal programming and news; they say its due to cuts
  • Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) – independent, non-profit broadcaster has tried to make up for the programing and scheduling limitations of the CBC/Radio-Canada; this way Aboriginal peoples’ perspectives, concerns and experiences are reflected
  • Calling on the fed gov’t to increase funding to CBC/Radio-Canada to reflect the diverse cultures, languages & perspectives of Aboriginal peoples
  • Calling on APTN to provide leadership in programing & the developing of media initiatives that inform and educate the Canadian public

Educating Journalists for Reconciliation

  • Media coverage of Aboriginal peoples often contains misinformation, sweeping generalizations & galling stereotypes
  • Journalists for Human Rights conducted study of media coverage in ON from 2010-2013:
    • Aboriginal population widely unrepresented in mainstream media
    • When Aboriginal people protest, coverage focused on community
    • Aboriginal people & gov’t talks, proportion of coverage took on negative tone
  • Commission would prefer that journalists are well versed and informed on the history of Aboriginal peoples & issues that would affect their lives
    • “Inaccurate, incomplete & myopic coverage can exacerbate stereotypes & prolong confrontations” à Historian J.R. Miller referencing Ipperwash Provincial Park 1995 conflict with Stony Point Reserve Members & the Ontario Provincial Police
  • TRC provided regular briefings to the media who attended National Events; some journalists divulged off the record that their perspectives & understanding of the residential school system drastically changed following the National Events & they see the need for healing & reconciliation
  • Calling for Canadian journalism programs & media schools to require education for all students on the history of Aboriginal peoples (& residential schools)

Sports: Inspiring Lives, Healthy Communities

  • Commission reported that Survivor’s ability to play sports @ the schools made their lives more bearable, gave them a sense of identity, accomplishment & pride
  • Call on all levels of gov’t & relevant organizations to provide public education encompassing the stories of Aboriginal athletes in history
  • Call on gov’t to ensure Aboriginal athlete development & growth & the continued support for the North American Indigenous Games
  • Aboriginal youth faces many barriers to leading active, healthy lives
    • Lack of opportunities for them to pursue sports
    • Little access to culturally relevant traditional activities
    • Lack of resources & sports facilities
  • Calling upon the gov’t to amend the Physical Activity & Sport Act to support reconciliation by ensuring the promotion & access to physical activity/sports for Aboriginal people
    • in 2005, Sport Canada developed the Aboriginal People’s Participation in Sports Policy & recognized the unique circumstances of the Aboriginal People’s – however, no action plan for implementation followed
  • Call the fed gov’t to ensure that nat’l sports policies, programs & initiatives are inclusive of Aboriginal people
    • 2010 Winter Olympics in BC – 4 Host First Nations (Squamish, Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh & Lil-wat peoples) formed a partnership that ensured Indigenous people were full participating in the decision making process in the spirit of reconciliation
  • Calling on officials & host countries of int’l sporting events such as Olympics, Pan Am & Commonwealth games to ensure Indigenous peoples’ territorial protocols are respected

Corporate Sector: Land, Sustainability, & Economic Development

  • Survivors’ hope for the future rests in reclaiming & regenerating their own cultures, laws, spirituality & ways of life on their homeland
  • In face of global warming, growing economic inequities & conflicts over large-scale economic development projects – there’s an emerging consensus that the land that sustains us all must be protected for future generations
  • 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) noted that historically land & resource development activities (hydroelectric dams, mines & agricultural/urban development) has posed many adverse impacts on Aboriginal communities:
    • oftentimes they were relocated without consultation
    • When not relocated, Aboriginal people were economically marginalized in their own homelands; irreversible environmental damage sometimes followed in the name of progress
    • Economic development disrupted Indigenous peoples’ cultural, spiritual & economic ties to the land; this resulted in devastation of traditional economies, self-sufficiency, community trauma, public welfare dependency & poor health & socio-political outcomes
  • Post-RCAP period, Supreme Court of Canada developed a body of law on the federal, provincial & territorial gov’ts duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples where land & resource development might infringe on their Aboriginal or Treaty rights
  • “Crown may delegate procedural aspects of consultation to industry proponents seeking a particular development” à business risk associated with legal uncertainty created by the duty to consult have motivated industry proponents to negotiate with Aboriginal communities to establish mechanisms designed to benefit Aboriginal people directly
    • Joint-venture business partnerships
    • Impact & benefit agreements
    • Revenue-sharing agreements
    • Education, training & job opportunities
  • to advance reconciliation, several reports between 2012-2014 emphasized the importance of soft skills – establish trust, engaging communities, resolving conflicts, & building mutually beneficial partnerships
  • “Building Authentic Partnerships: Aboriginal Participation in Major Resource Development Opportunities” – report put together by Aboriginal leaders, senior fed, provincial & territorial gov’t officials identified 5 opportunities for action:
    • Developing authentic partnerships b/w communities, industry, gov’ts & academic institutions
    • Developing human capital by removing barriers to education, training & skills development for Aboriginal entrepreneurs, workers & leaders
    • Enhancing community control over decision making
    • Promoting entrepreneurship & business development
    • Increasing financial participation
  • Aboriginal communities view natural resource development as linked to broader reconciliation agenda; consistent with the Commission’s view
  • Tsilhqot’in Nation vs. British Columbia – Aboriginal communities have a right to an equitable place at the table in relation to natural resource development in Canada
  • Int’l, growing awareness in corporate sector that the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an effective framework for industry & business to establish respectful relationships
  • Call on the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the UN Dec of Right of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework & apply its principles, norms & standards to corporate policy & core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples & their lands & resources

We are all Treaty people: Communities, Alliances, and Hope

  • Commission believes that reconciliation cannot be left up to gov’ts, courts & churches alone
  • Reconciliation must happen across all sectors of Canadian society
  • At community level, contact between Aboriginal & non-Aboriginal peoples is often minimal or marred by distrust and racism; establishing respectful relationships requires learning to be good neighbors
  • Cities of Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton & Calgary have issued proclamations declaring a year of reconciliation

Intergenerational Youth Across Cultures

  • “Be the Change: Young People Healing the Past and Building the Future” à cross cultural dialogue, youth leaders described intergenerational impacts of human rights violations such as the residential schools, the Holocaust, Canada’s internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII & head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants
  • Survivor Kim Harvey “Reconciliation is about relationship. To reconcile, I really need to understand what happened to you, who you are, and what, as a community member, I can do to make our community better”

Newcomers to Canada

  • For new Canadians, many of whom carry their own traumatic memories of colonial violence, racism, and oppression, finding common ground as Treaty people involves learning about the history of Aboriginal peoples and finding ways to build stronger relationships of solidarity with them
  • Commission believes there is an urgent need for more dialogue between Aboriginal peoples & new Canadians

Becoming Citizens

  • Discover Canada – “To understand what it means to be Canadian, it is important to know about our three founding peoples—Aboriginal, French and British” – booklet used for preparing to become a citizen
  • Discover Canada ignores Indigenous peoples as being a source of law for Canada says that Canada’s tradition of an “ordered liberty” is due to England, and not at all to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, who welcomed the European explorers, helped them survive in this climate, guided them throughout the country, and entered into Treaties with them to share their land with the newcomers from Europe.

New Citizenship Oath for Canada

  • Canada’s Oath of Citizenship must include a solemn promise to respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights
  • Call upon the fed gov’t in collaboration with nat’l Aboriginal organizations, to revise the info kit for newcomers to Canada & reflect a more inclusive history of diverse Aboriginal peoples
  • Call on Gov’t of Canada to replace the Oath of Citizenship:
    • I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
  • Closing Words
  • Survivor and Gwawaenuk Elder Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, speaking as Reconciliation Canada’s ambassador, has said, “Reconciliation includes anyone with an open heart and an open mind, who is willing to look to the future in a new way. Let us find a way to belong to this time and place together. Our future, and the well-being of all our children, rests with the kind of relationships we build today.”
  • Reconciliation calls for personal, group, community, federal, provincial & territorial gov’t action.
  • Things that must change:
    • The way we govern ourselves
    • Laws
    • Policies & programs
    • Education of ourselves & our children
    • The way we do business
    • Thinking
    • The way we talk to & about each other
  • All Canadians must make a firm and lasting commitment to reconciliation to ensure that Canada is a country where our children and grandchildren can thrive.

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Calls to Action


  • Child welfare: call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care by:
    • providing adequate resources
    • ensuring proper education and training of social workers and educators
    • publishing annual reports
    • enacting Aboriginal child welfare legislation
    • developing culturally appropriate parenting programs for Aboriginal families
  • Education:
    • repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada (spanking law – parents’ and teachers’ use of “reasonable force” is legal in disciplining a child)
    • eliminate educational and employment gaps
    • prepare culturally appropriate curricula
    • provide funding to end backlog of First Nations students seeking PSE
  • Language and Culture:
    • acknowledge Aboriginal language rights by appointing Aboriginal Languages Commissioner and calling upon PS institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages
    • enable survivors to reclaim names changed by RS system by waving admin costs for 5 years in the name change process
  • Health:
    • acknowledge that current state of Aboriginal health is a direct result of previous government policies, and recognize and implement health care rights of Aboriginal people and publish annual reports
    • recognize and address distinct health needs to Metis, Inuit and off-reserve Aboriginal peoples
    • provide sustainable funding for existing and new healing centres
    • recognize value of Aboriginal healing practices and use them in treatment of Aboriginal patients
    • increase number of Aboriginal professionals working in the healthcare field
    • medical and nursing schools to require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues, including history and legacy of RS
  • Justice:
    • reaffirm independence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to investigate crimes in which the government has its own interest as a potential or real party in civil litigation
    • ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training and require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations
    • commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports on progress
    • address and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) through culturally appropriate programs
    • reform criminal justice system to better address the needs of offenders with FASD
    • create additional Aboriginal healing lodges within federal correction system
    • provide culturally relevant services to inmates on issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence, overcoming experience of having been sexually abused
    • inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls, including links to intergenerational legacy of RS


  • governments and church parties to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation
  • develop with Aboriginal peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown
  • sign a Covenant of Reconciliation that would identify principles for working collaboratively to advance reconciliation in Canadian society
  • establishm Indigenous law institutes for the development, use, and understanding of Indigenous laws and access to justice in accordance with the unique cultures of Aboriginal peoples in Canada
  • policy of transparency in regard to the scope and extent of Aboriginal and Treaty rights
  • establish a National Council for Reconciliation (NCR) as an independent, national, oversight body with membership jointly appointed by the Government of Canada and national Aboriginal organizations, and consisting of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members, to monitor, evaluate, and report on the reconciliation process
    • Government of Canada to provide multi-year funding for the NCR
  • all levels of government to provide annual reports or any current data requested by the National Council for Reconciliation so that it can report on the progress towards reconciliation (education, income and health attainments, number of children in care, etc.)
  • PM to formally respond to the report of the National Council for Reconciliation by issuing an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report to outline the government’s plans for advancing the cause of reconciliation
  • governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples
  • call upon the Pope to issue an apology, church parties to develop ongoing education strategies for their congregations, develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities on the need to respect Aboriginal spirituality in its own right, history and legacy of RS and religious conflict in Aboriginal communities
  • make age-appropriate curriculum on RS, Treaties, and Aboriginal
  • peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education
  • requirement for K-12 students
  • SSHRC to establish national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation
  • federal government to establish multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation
  • federal government to provide funding to the Canadian Museums Association to undertake a national review of museum policies and best practices to determine the level of compliance with UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Library and Archives Canada to fully adopt and implement UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Joinet-Orentlicher Principles, as related to Aboriginal peoples’ inalienable right to know the truth about what happened and why, with regard to human rights violations committed against them in the residential schools
    • national review of archival policies and best practices to determine level of compliance with above principles, and produce report with recommendations
  • all chief coroners and provincial vital statistics agencies that have not provided to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada their records on the deaths of Aboriginal children in the care of residential school authorities to make these documents available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
  • federal government to allocate sufficient resources to develop and maintain National Residential School Student Death Register
  • federal government to work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former RS students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps and inform the families of children who died at RS of the child’s burial location and to respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers
  • develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration
    • establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
    • commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools National Monument in Ottawa
  • Canadian journalism programs and media schools to require education for all students on the history of Aboriginal peoples
  • corporate sector in Canada to adopt UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply it to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources
  • revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools
  • replace the Oath of Citizenship with the following:
    • I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.

*recommendations to be developed/enacted in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples

1 With the support of the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit organizations, former residential school students took the federal government and the churches to court. Their cases led to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history. The agreement sought to begin repairing the harm caused by residential schools. Aside from providing compensation to former students, the agreement called for the establishment of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with a budget of $60-million over five years.

2 The IAP is an adjudicative process for financial compensation to residential school Survivors who suffered serious abuse at residential schools. Consequently, the body that administers the IAP process, the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat (IRSAS), is in possession of a wealth of documents relevant to the legacy of Indian residential schools.

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Contact Information

Name Position Contact Information
Priya Ramesh and Katarina Todic Policy Co-Directors