Sunday August 10, 2014

Justice Murray Sinclair on Truth and Reconciliation

Listen 29:35

Judge Murray Sinclair is Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His own father was a residential school survivor.

Think back to your child's first day of school - meeting the teacher, the excitement, the possibilities. Now paint a different picture: imagine your child being wrenched from your family, sent away to who-knows-where, under who-knows-what conditions. 

There is no easy way of talking about this part of Canada's legacy. For more than a century, we sent children as young as five to residential schools - 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children who had no control over their lives, and whose parents were required by law to send them away. Children were housed in gender-segregated dorms in schools, isolated from their families.  They were often victimized by the Christian clergy who ran the schools. They were sexually and physically abused.  And sometimes they died.  

As recently as the 1990's, Canada's government-funded, church-run schools were places where Aboriginal children were, in the words of the United Church, "victims of evil acts that cannot under any circumstances be justified or excused".

Canada finally apologized in the spring of 2008.

Two years before that apology, the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history was settled between the survivors of these schools, the Canadian government, and the churches that ran them. Out of the settlement, the survivors set aside 60-million dollars to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It got off to a bumpy start...the first commissioners resigned and it took a year to replace them. In 2009 Justice Murray Sinclair, Manitoba's first Aboriginal judge, became Chair of the Commission. Since then he has been traveling the country, hosting events and listening to the stories of survivors, and some people who worked in the schools. That phase of the Commission's work came to a close in March, and a final report is being prepared.

Justice Murray Sinclair came to our studio for a feature interview with Michael Enright.