After six years of travelling the country to hear testimony from 7,000 witnesses about their experiences at residential schools, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission wraps up this week in Ottawa.
The final event kicked off yesterday with thousands of people participating in a reconciliation walk through the nation's capital. The summary of the commission's report will be released Tuesday.
"I never, ever envisioned that this would happen, that thousands of people would gather to give expression to the idea that we are … all one," said Chief Robert Joseph, ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and a member of the National Assembly of First Nations elders council.
"And that includes me, somebody who was so terribly beat up in these residential schools that I felt absolutely worthless, no purpose in my life. And now here I am and I see all this humanity, and I'm inspired to my soul that people care enough to come out and walk with us today. And we walk together."
When the commission began in June 2010, there were high hopes it would help repair the relationship between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada. However, as the TRC winds down, many seem conflicted about the state of reconciliation in Canada.
- Residential schools findings point to 'cultural genocide,' commission chair says
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About 150,000 children attended residential school over more than 100 years, starting in 1880s until the last school was closed in 1996. Many students as young children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to the schools to live. The commission heard thousands of statements about their experiences, which often included emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Viv Ketchum, a survivor who travelled to Ottawa to attend the final TRC event, was hopeful after hearing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's apology in 2008, but has since been disappointed by the process.
"I don't expect much to happen after, I don't think," she said. "This is just going to be one final hurrah for us and we're just going to be placed aside. I think that's the reality for us [survivors]."
Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the commission, said that number is likely higher.
"Undoubtedly, the most shocking piece of information that we uncovered was the number of children who died in the schools," Sinclair said. "The number of children who died was a significant number, and we think that we have not uncovered anywhere near what the total would be because the record keeping around that question was very poor."
Sinclair will release a 300-page executive summary of the final report on Tuesday.
"The report itself — just by its size alone — is going to document as full a story of residential schools as has ever been documented in the past." Sinclair told CBC News last week.
- Watch Peter Mansbridge interview Justice Murray Sinclair on The National tonight at 9 p.m. ET on CBC NN and 10 p.m. on CBC TV.
The report will include recommendations, and many expect Sinclair to argue that Canada's treatment of aboriginal people in residential schools be deemed "cultural genocide."
In an interview with CBC's Power and Politics on Friday, Sinclar said the "evidence is mounting that the government did try to eliminate the culture and language of indigenous people for well over 100 years."
"They did it by forcibly removing from their families and placing them within institutions that were cultural indoctrination centres, really," he said. "That appears to us to fall within the definition of genocide — within the UN convention of genocide."
Last week, Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin also said Canada attempted "cultural genocide" against aboriginal people.
It's a term some residential school survivors themselves used when giving testimony about the abuse they endured in the schools. A volume of survivor testimony will be released in the final report, which will eventually contain six volumes and approximately two million words, according to Sinclair.
Vivian Ketchum has never told her full story at one of the national events. It is too painful for her to recount. She hesitated travelling to Ottawa to take part in the final event, but said she came to honour her ancestors.
"A lot of open wounds. A lot of memories are just coming back to me right now, some that I didn't even know were there," she said.
The hashtag #MyReconciliationIncludes continued to gather steam over the weekend. It was started by renowned Métis artist Christi Belcourt with this tweet on Friday.
Christi Belourt, Métis artist, started the #MyReconciliationIncludes hashtag with this tweet
#MyReconciliationIncludes acknowledgement of the attempted "genocide" of Indigenous Peoples. Starvation policies were more than "cultural."— @christibelcourt
The hashtag quickly went viral and the tweets illustrate the hope and skepticism many aboriginal people have about the idea of reconciliation.
#MyReconciliationIncludes NEVER hearing "get over it" again.— @tagaq
#MyReconciliationIncludes not feeling fear and anxiety everytime one of my daughters go out.— @Nehiyahskwew
#MyReconciliationIncludes recognizing that an apology is not enough; that "sorry" does not address ongoing violence and dispossession— @Dallas_Hunt
#MyReconciliationIncludes Reconciliation means not saying sorry twice. End inequality in fed. funding for First Nations kids fnwitness.ca— @cblackst
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