Kenora inmates to speak of residential school legacy

Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is at the Kenora District Jail Thursday to take statements on how Indian Residential Schools affected the lives of many inmates.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes Kenora District Jail its first stop in gathering stories from inmates

A class in penmanship at the Red Deer Indian Industrial School, Red Deer, Alberta, circa 1914 or 1919. From the United Church of Canada archives. Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission will visit the Kenora District Jail to gather stories from inmates there. Observers say the legacy of residential schools has affected the majority of the inmates there, as most of them are of First Nations descent. (

Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is at the Kenora District Jail Thursday to take statements on how the Indian Residential School experience affected the lives of many inmates.

This is the first time the commission will visit a correctional institution. In the Kenora jail, 92 per cent of the inmates are Aboriginal.

That's why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chose the facility for its first visit, said Ry Moran, the director of statement gathering for the commission.

"We thought that number was especially high," he said.

"In further conversations we decided that this would be a good area to focus on because that particular area around (Kenora) ... has been so affected by the residential school legacy."

Kenora defence lawyer Sharon Scharfe said the legacy of residential schools has affected the majority of her clients in some way.

"We have so many people who are hurting and, in effect, self medicating, through drugs, through alcohol," Scharfe said.

"[This is] leading ... to getting criminal charges that are leading them to being in the Kenora jail," she said.

"The overwhelming numbers of people that we assist in Kenora courts are of First Nations descent — and almost all of them have a residential school legacy of some sort."

Private sessions

Moran said people in the jail are younger, so most likely weren't sent to residential schools themselves. But he expects they have suffered the fallout from that experience — difficult relationships with parents, loss of culture, cycles of violence and alcohol and drug abuse.

The commission will conduct private statement sessions in which inmates will be brought, one at a time, to speak to their statement gatherer. There will also be health workers on site to provide emotional support. There will be options to record using video or audio, and people will be given a copy of their statements.

Moran said it may be an important step in their healing journey.

"We hope that the people who participate in the statement gathering process firstly feel like they've been heard and that their experience matters," Moran said.

"It matters, not only to the statement gatherer in the room, but … it matters to the commission and … it matters more generally to Canada."

Moran noted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will also gather stories at other jails in the future. In September the commission will go to a correctional facility in Yellowknife, and plan to go to more across the country.