Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is holding hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday in Thunder Bay — but there are mixed feelings about what will be accomplished.

Survivors of residential school ahave been invited to share their experiences with the commission so it can fulfill its mandate of educating all Canadians about the residential school system and its legacy.

Ron Morrisseau said he remembers being forced to stand in a broom closet for hours as punishment when he was a student at St. Joseph Indian Residential School in Thunder Bay.

The 77-year-old said the entire residential school experience was bewildering.

"I didn’t have no idea where I was, why I was there, how long I was going to be there," Morrisseau said.

The memories are painful, he said. But he’ll be attending the hearings in Thunder Bay because he has found talking about his experiences brings healing.

'Opening a door'

"It’s not that I want to talk about it, but I feel it’s something that is relevant at this time," Morrisseau said. "It is like opening the door, the wider you open it, the more light comes in."

But some survivors worry that it is only former students who are doing all the sharing through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


Mike Cachagee has spent more than 30 years working with, and on behalf of, other survivors. “I don’t know if they’ll ever get it really, really cleared up,” he says of efforts to get the government to release documents. (American Public Media)

Mike Cachagee said he has been critical of the commission from the start because the onus is on survivors to uncover the truth of the residential school system. 

"There was always a reluctance on the part of Canada to release any information," Cachagee said. "I’ve said from day-one that this thing is flawed because we were aware of the fact that this issue of records was a real, real issue."

TRC taking government to court

That issue came to a head this week when the commission announced court action to press the government to release thousands of documents related to residential school.

A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs said the government is not withholding any relevant information.

"Canada aims to disclose all of its remaining documents relevant to the TRCs mandate by June 30, 2013," Jan O'Driscoll said in a statement Monday.

An Ontario court is scheduled to hear the case on Dec. 20.

But Cachagee said he doubts the "boondoggle" will be easily — or quickly — resolved, leaving much of the story of Canada’s residential school policy untold.

"I don’t know if they’ll ever get it really, really cleared up," he said. "Not in my lifetime, not in your lifetime or even my grandchildren’s lifetime.

"That’s the tragedy ... the ones that are continually victimized are the survivors," he added. "They’re the ones that lose at the end of all this."