Truth panel struggles with N.W.T. event travel

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is worried that more former residential school students will want to attend its next national gathering this June in Inuvik, N.W.T., than it can afford to send.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is worried that more former residential school students will want to attend its next national gathering this June in Inuvik, N.W.T., than it can afford to send.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will hold its next national event from June 28 to July 1 in Inuvik, N.W.T., located 1,100 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife.

Former residential school students from across Canada's North, as well as officials, media and others, are expected to converge on Inuvik from June 28 to July 1 for the commission's second of seven national events.

But there is confusion among some in Inuvik, located about 1,100 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife, about the commission's plans to help fund travel and accommodations costs for former students, also known as residential school survivors, who want to attend the event.

Those who help survivors in Inuvik estimate that more than 1,200 people from remote northern communities want to go to the June event.

"How are they going to pick the people that are going to come? Like, is everybody that applies coming, or just a select few?" Dorothy Amos, a local support worker, told CBC News at a public meeting hosted by the commission on Monday night.

$500K budgeted for travel

"It's almost a month or two months work for them just to fly in," added Carol Arey, another support worker in Inuvik.

"If there's no dollars there to bring them in, then we're missing out on a lot of survivors that want to come in and share their stories."

Commission members listen to former residential school students in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, on March 21. The commission is holding hearings across Canada's North in advance of the June event. ((CBC))

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is gathering testimony from First Nations, Métis and Inuit who were taken away from their families to attend more than 130 residential schools across Canada from the late 1870s until the last school closed in 1996.

The three-member commission panel has heard survivors say they were physically, sexually and psychologically abused at the schools, which were run by churches but funded by the federal government.

The commission is not legally obligated to help cover any travel costs for residential school survivors, but it has already budgeted $500,000 for northern survivors to travel to Inuvik — about one-third of the overall budget for the upcoming event.

Survivor travel and hospitality expenses contributed to the nearly $600,000 in extra costs from the commission's last national event in Winnipeg in June 2010.

At that rate, the commission could burn through its $60-million budget well before its mandate ends and potentially put its remaining five national events in jeopardy.

Planning issues will be resolved: commissioner

Back in Inuvik, commission member Marie Wilson said all the issues related to plans for the June event will be resolved soon.

Commissioner Marie Wilson said a final plan for travel assistance to Inuvik will be ready in the coming weeks. ((CBC))

"We're just at that critical stage where a lot of things are going to have to come together in fairly short order, and they will. I'm confident of that," Wilson told CBC News.

Wilson said the commission is hoping to raise some of its travel funds through airline sponsorships, government funding sources, and even partnerships with mining, oil and gas companies working in the North.

Commission officials will release their final plans for travel assistance in the next two to three weeks, Wilson said.

"We've been working hard to try to identify where is there money available for us to be able to provide support for survivor travel," she said.

"The issue is how can people actually afford to be able to do that from across the North, because it's so far and it's so expensive to get here?"

Accommodations also an issue

Some at Monday night's meeting noted that Inuvik's hotels will not have enough beds to accommodate everyone. Commission officials said they want to set up a "tent city" during the event, but no location has been chosen yet.

Wilson is encouraging local groups to hold fundraisers to help those who want to attend the national event. As well, she is calling on residents in Inuvik to house visiting survivors when the event begins.

Wilson, along with fellow panelist Wilton Littlechild and chairman Murray Sinclair, are holding local hearings in 19 communities across Nunavik, Nunavut, the N.W.T. and Yukon in the months leading up to the Inuvik event.

"Not once did anyone say, 'And by the way, I really want to go to national event ... when is my ticket coming?'" Wilson said.

"What was raised again and again and again and again is, 'Thank you so much for coming. I want to set down this load.' And I don't think people care so much about where that load is set down. What they care about is that they have safe environments in which to do that."

With files from the CBC's Philippe Morin and Karen Pauls