Truth and reconciliation: Looking back on a landmark week for Canada
'This report is going to have to stand the test of time,' says Justice Murray Sinclair
Over six years the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) collected 6,740 statements from witnesses and recorded 1,355 hours of testimony. It all culminated in 94 recommendations presented in Ottawa this last week amidst four days of events and ceremonies attended by thousands.
The commission was a requirement of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement reached in 2007, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.
In its report, the TRC writes about the ongoing effects of colonialism, the "policies of cultural genocide and assimilation" and the huge rift this has caused between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
"It took a long time for that damage to have been done and for the relationship we see to have been created, and it will take us a long time to fix it."
"But the process has already begun," the commission adds.
Chief Robert Joseph, who attended residential school and helped create the organization Reconciliation Canada, said he had been waiting to take part in Sunday's walk for a long time.
"I never, ever envisioned that this would happen, that thousands of people would gather to give expression to the idea that we are … all one," Joseph said.
But others were skeptical. Vivian Ketchum, 51, attended Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in northern Ontario starting when she was five years old. She came to Ottawa for the final TRC events this week.
"I don't expect much to happen after," she said. "This is just going to be one final hurrah for us and we're just going to be placed aside. I think that's the reality for us [survivors]."
- Truth and Reconciliation: Aboriginal people conflicted as commission wraps up after 6 years
- Legacy of residential schools hits Twitter with #MyReconciliationIncludes
That skepticism was reflected in the hashtag #MyReconciliationIncludes, that gathered steam throughout the week on Twitter. It was started by renowned Métis artist Christi Belcourt, and spurred on discussion that was sometimes cynical, sometimes hopeful.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MyReconciliationIncludes?src=hash">#MyReconciliationIncludes</a> acknowledgement of the attempted "genocide" of Indigenous Peoples. Starvation policies were more than "cultural."—@christibelcourt
Can you see the love and connection made when being inducted as an Honorary Witness? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MyReconciliationIncludes?src=hash">#MyReconciliationIncludes</a> us all <a href="http://t.co/8HlnGGN6O6">pic.twitter.com/8HlnGGN6O6</a>—@ClaraHughes_
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MyReconciliationIncludes?src=hash">#MyReconciliationIncludes</a> a granddaughter proud to be Anishinaabe.—@Sincmurr
Canada needs to move from "apology to action" if reconciliation with Aboriginal Peoples is to succeed, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said.
The report includes 94 recommendations for change in policies, programs and the "way we talk to, and about, each other." It also urges Canada to confront the issue of cultural genocide in relationship to the treatment of Aboriginal Peoples.
- TRC urges Canada to confront 'cultural genocide' of residential schools
- Truth and Reconciliation report brings calls for action, not words
Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with the commissioners at a closed door meeting on Tuesday. In a written statement released after the meeting, Justice Murray Sinclair, the commission's chair, said he was worried the government would not act on some of the report's recommendations.
"He was open to listening to some of our concerns and inquired about some of our recommendations," he said.
"I remain concerned with the government's resistance to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."
The report said the government's implementation of the declaration would be a "framework for reconciliation."
Events closed on June 3, when Governor General David Johnston spoke to a packed, emotional room inside Rideau Hall Wednesday, marking the ceremonial end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Justice Sinclair reminded everyone that the recommendations were written for all of Canada.
"We are writing for the future, not just for this government. Our view is that this report is going to have to stand the test of time."