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Northerners react to Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report

'I think it's each of our responsibility first of all, to read the report, to understand it,' said Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus of the TRC report. 'You don't have to fully agree with it, but read it — create a dialogue.'

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says it's up to ordinary Canadians to work towards reconciliation

'I think it's each of our responsibility, first of all, to read the report, to understand it,' said Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus. 'Talk about the report with our families, our friends, our extended families and so on.'

A sense of relief and a sense of accomplishment is how Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus described the mood in Ottawa as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 recommendations on how the country can move forward after residential schools.

Judy Gingell, an executive elder for Kwanlin Dün First Nation and a former Commissioner of Yukon, says she agrees with the TRC panel's recommendations and says education is essential to true reconciliation. (CBC)
Now that the truth is out, he says, it's up to Canadians to take on the role of reconciliation.

"I think it's each of our responsibility, first of all, to read the report, to understand it," he said. "Talk about the report with our families, our friends, our extended families and so on. And understand what the report is saying. You don't have to fully agree with it, but read it — create a dialogue."

Erasmus said reconciliation begins with individuals and circles outwards. 

Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the territory's land claim organization, agreed.

"All Canadians have a personal responsibility to learn about this time in Canadian history," she said in a statement. "Before reconciliation can truly move ahead, we all need to know the truth of what happened."

It's estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 Inuit from Nunavut attended residential schools.

Therese Ukaliannuk of Igloolik, Nunavut, says her 6-year-old daughter was taken to residential school while she was in the south with tuberculosis. She never saw her daughter again, or learned where she was buried. (CBC)
"We still have much grieving to do for this time in our lives and our families and our history, and must continue to work to find ways to heal and move on to healthier futures," Towtongie said.   

In a news release, the Makivik Corporation said it is pleased with the TRC's work and its final report and recommendations.

"Now we have been given the whole story and a blueprint to recovery. Let's do it," said Jobie Tukkiapik, Makivik Corporation president, in the release.

Therese Ukaliannuk, an elder from Igloolik, Nunavut, who now lives in Iqaluit, told her story to Igalaaq host Madeleine Allakariallak in Inuktitut.

Ukaliannuk's six-year-old daughter was sent south to residential school while she herself was in the south receiving treatment for tuberculosis. The little girl never returned.

Her mother never learned where she is buried.

'Still emotional' in Whitehorse

There were applause and tears at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse, where it was standing room only as more than 100 people gathered to watch a broadcast of the report's release in Ottawa.

"I'm still emotional, because I did go through the residential school," said former Yukon commissioner Judy Gingell.

"We all have a duty and responsibility to carry the recommendations forward. It's well said — these people have done their job well."

There was applause for some of the recommendations, and tears for some of the survivors' stories.

Outside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, Desmond Davies of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation tended a sacred fire. His mother attended residential school, but he says she never talked much about it before she died.

Chuck Hume of the Council of Yukon First Nations says of the Truth and Reconcilation Commission's final report: 'It was a long road that we travelled, very long.' (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"It's interesting to hear the stories that go along with it, and what happened to her and what she experienced," he said.

"It's good for my healing, and just to know what she went through."

'Good work has already started'

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski attended the event, alongside other Yukon leaders.

"I have to say that some of this good work has already started here in this territory," Pasloski said, adding he intended to read the recommendations to determine what should be done in Yukon.

"One of the recommendations, or one of the paths to reconciliation, was through treaties and here in Yukon we have almost half of all the modern day treaties in this country at this point. So that's very powerful."

Pasloski said Yukon has also implemented a school curriculum on residential schools — another one of the report's recommendations.

Not recognized

Felix Lockhart, chief of the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, went to residential school and he was in Ottawa for the TRC closing events. His wife Sandra was placed in an orphanage in Saskatchewan by the federal government at age 11, where she says she experienced years of abuse and cultural degradation.

Felix Lockhart, chief of Lutselk'e, N.W.T., says the federal government's recognition of some residential schools but not others has divided aboriginal people. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

That orphanage is not recognized as a residential school.

"It's devastating at many levels to know that the government made those choices, and then they get to choose which adults will be recognized, and who won't," she said. 

Felix Lockhart says it's another way the federal government has divided aboriginal people.

"We had to experience that division for that matter between ourselves, and we can talk to a certain point, but at a certain point the dialogue just comes to a point."

They both hope Sandra will one day be able to access the kinds of services and benefits for which former residential school students are eligible.

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