'Why people don't like us Indian people?' questions remain as TRC wraps up

Winnipeg's Truth and Reconciliation events began Tuesday with a prayer and a question: "Why people don't like us Indian people?"

Live web-streaming events in public libraries, ceremonies at University of Winnipeg mark report release

Winnipeg's Truth and Reconciliation events began Tuesday with a prayer and a question: "I wonder why people don't like us Indian people?"

Elder Margaret Lavalee, who opened the events with a prayer on the front lawn of the University of Winnipeg, said she spoke with other elders ahead of Tuesday, to prepare for what she would say.

She spoke about recently returning to her home community of Sagkeeng First Nation for the funeral of a residential school survivor, who was 88.

"One of the elders that I was talking to … shared with me, 'I wonder why people don't like us Indian people. Why is there so much racism still yet in our province? In our country. And why do we have to reconcile? And with whom? The government?,'" she said.

That elder whom she spoke to also asked if it was truly the responsibility of First Nations to reconcile with the government.

"'We didn't do anything. We were kind people,'" Lavalee quoted the elder as saying. "'We welcomed the visitors. We welcomed the newcomers and we looked after the newcomers, us Indians here in Manitoba and the rest of Canada. So what did we do wrong, why people don't like us?'"

"So those questions are still there," Lavalee said.

Marcel French, whose mother was a residential school survivor, handed out tobacco pouches ahead of Lavalee's prayer on Tuesday.

He lauded the work of the TRC and said his mom would be proud, but expressed concern it could end up forgotten like so many other government reports.

"I hope that this just doesn't sit on a shelf and we sort of push it to the back and let it just sit there. I hope that we continue the work, there's a lot of work that still needs to be done," he said.

As six years of TRC hearings wrap up today in Ottawa, related events are happening across the country, including in Winnipeg.

Key recommendations in final report

Below are summaries of some of the policy recommendations made in the report. Read the full report on the TRC website.

  • HEALTH: An acknowledgement that the current state of aboriginal health is a direct result of previous government policies and the implementation of health-care rights for aboriginal people.
  • EDUCATION: The creation and funding for new aboriginal education legislation, which protects languages and cultures and closes the education gap for aboriginal people.
  • JUSTICE: A commitment to eliminate the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in custody and in trouble with the law, along with the collection and publication of data on criminal victimization of aboriginal people.
  • PUBLIC INQUIRY: The creation of a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
  • MONITORING: The creation of a national council for reconciliation, which would monitor and report on reconciliation progress, as well as the introduction of an annual State of Aboriginal Peoples report delivered by the prime minister.
  • LANGUAGE: The government is asked to implement an Aboriginal Languages Act and appoint a language commissioner in order to preserve and promote it.
  • FUNDING: The report calls for $10 million over seven years from the federal government for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
  • COMMEMORATION: The creation of a statutory holiday to honour survivors, their families and communities – and to ensure "public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process."
  • MEMORIALS: The report asks for funding for memorials, community events and museums, including a museum reconciliation commemoration program, to be launched in time for Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017.

The recommendations included in Tuesday's report are non-binding — the government doesn't have to act, but the commission is pushing for the implementation of its recommendations and urging Canadians to do the same.

"Reconciliation is going to take hard work. People of all walks of life and at all levels of society will need to be willingly engaged," the report says in its closing notes, where the authors thank survivors who "in tears and with anger, shared their pain."

Winnipeg's TRC events for Tuesday

  • University of Winnipeg

8:30 a.m. Opening ceremony on front lawn followed by remarks from Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman

10 a.m. Public viewing of TRC findings live stream from Ottawa in Riddell Hall begins

12 p.m. A walk for reconciliation begins on the front lawn

  • Winnipeg Public Libraries

Live stream of report release is being held at Millennium Library at 251 Donald St., Pembina Trail Library at 2724 Pembina Hwy., Sir William Stephenson Library at 765 Keewatin Blvd. and the West End Library at 999 Sargent Ave. All rooms open at 9:30 a.m.

  • Thunderbird House

1 p.m. A feast and pipe ceremony at Thunderbird House at 715 Main St. following the U of W walk.

Key dates

During its mandate, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held a series of national events in Winnipeg, Inuvik, Halifax, Saskatoon, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

The commission's mandate was originally scheduled to end in 2014 with a final event in Ottawa. However, it was extended to 2015 as a large amount of records related to the residential school system was handed over to the commission after the federal government was ordered to do so by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in January 2013.

Final report

Female students at Bishop Horden Residential School in Moose Factory, Ont. circa 1955. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report on Canada's residential school system is anticipated Tuesday morning. (Anglican Church of Canada General Synod Archives/Algoma University Archives)
The TRC's final report, released Tuesday at 10 a.m. CT, is part of the commission's final event this week in Ottawa.

The commission has spent six years compiling more than 7,000 interviews on Canada's residential school system.

More than 150,000 indigenous children attended the school, and many have recounted cases of abuse.

"It's imperative for us, as survivors, to speak about our time in residential schools, and I don't do it from a blaming kind of perspective. It's for the love of my children," said Mary Courchene, a residential school survivor.

Courchene was taken from her home as a five-year-old girl and was put in to the residential school system for 10 years. She was not allowed to see her parents during the school year, though they lived next door to the school.

"I'm still living it every day of my life. A trigger will happen, and I'm right back to that feeling," she said.

'Cultural genocide'

Last week, Beverley McLachlin, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, said Canada attempted "cultural genocide" against aboriginal peoples.

Justice Murray Sinclair, the commission's chair, said he agreed with that characterization.

University of Manitoba sociologist Andrew Woolford said there is a risk of focusing too heavily on that debate.

"People could get locked into the debate about the use of the word rather than dealing with and confronting the stories and history the TRC wants to tell," said Woolford.

He said he hopes people will pay attention to the broader recommendations of the report instead.

"Rather than getting locked into a discussion of genocide and its definition, people will listen to survivors, listen to what they have to say and try to understand the ways in which they experienced this as destructive," said Woolford.

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