Manitoba

Native truth commission gets volunteer support

More than 500 Winnipeggers are preparing to donate their time to help out at national Truth and Reconciliation Commission events over the next few days.
Many students were forbidden to speak their native language at residential schools.

More than 500 Winnipeggers are preparing to donate their time to help out at national Truth and Reconciliation Commission events over the next few days. 

The event, which will take place at The Forks national historical site June 16-19 in Winnipeg, is expected to bring in 5,000 to 8,000 survivors and their families, along with former school staff and others who were affected by the experience. It will be the first of seven such events to be held across the country. 

The reasons for helping out are as individual as the volunteer.

Bob Gilbert, a pastor at an inner city church and drop-in centre, says he sees the fallout from the horrors of residential schooling on a daily basis. 

Justice Murray Sinclair, second from left, is chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which begins its first set of hearings in Winnipeg on Wednesday. ((CBC))
"I've heard horrendous stories of abuse — physical, sexual, emotional abuse," he said, adding that volunteering as a chaplain at the event makes him feel like he's part of the healing process.

At Gordon Bell High School in Winnipeg, students say they are excited about helping out.

"This is probably like one of the biggest things I've ever done," said Grade 10 student Sheila Linklater, 17, who said her whole family was scarred by the residential school experience.

"It hurts, you know, to hear what my family went through," she said. "Some of them got past it, some of them didn't, but you know it changed them."

Jennifer Wood at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says people have volunteered for everything from driving to cooking to providing a listening ear. What is especially heartening, she said, is the fact students are among those who have signed on.

"This is history in the making, so when students are getting involved, it really it really is a form of reconciliation and healing," Wood said.

With files from Louise Charette

now