Education 'only way forward,' says Gov. Gen. David Johnston as TRC ends

Governor General David Johnston spoke to a packed, emotional room inside Rideau Hall Wednesday, marking the ceremonial end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper present, but did not speak at ceremony

Gov. Gen. David Johnston spoke to a packed, emotional room inside Rideau Hall Wednesday, marking the ceremonial end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Johnston, who served as an honourary witness to the commission, called its closing a historic 'opportunity' — with education being the only way forward.

"A moment like this arises very rarely in a country's history. This is a moment for national reflection and introspection. This is a moment to reflect upon our history, our relationships and our responsibilities towards each other, " he said Wednesday.

"To think about the depth of our commitment to tolerance, respect and inclusiveness and whether we can do better. We can and we must."

Johnston said far too many Canadians do not know enough about the residential schools and their legacy. He called the report's conclusion a new chapter in the country's history.

"Let's keep expanding the circle of awareness, understanding responsibility and reconciliation."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the three commissioners, residential school survivors and other dignitaries including Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, were also at the ceremony. 

Harper notably did not speak during the event.

For many in attendance, the ceremony inside Rideau Hall brought the commission full circle. Six years ago, then-Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean relaunched the commission in the same room where Wednesday's ceremony took place.

This time, however, the focus was on survivor recognition and commemoration, rather than unanswered questions.

All three commissioners gave speeches and placed articles of remembrance in a bentwood box — including photographs, ashes from tissues burned after wiping survivor's tears and a traditional rattle to symbolize the children who died in the schools. 

Guests were seated in two large semi-circles, facing each other. Two seats remained empty in the front row, to symbolize the children who had died in residential schools.

While guests were led into the ceremony by residential school survivors, they were led out of Rideau Hall by more than 300 Ottawa-area school children, in a nod to the future. 

Together, they planted a sea of brightly-coloured paper hearts to symbolize the start of the reconciliation process. Each heart had its own message of reconciliation, written by thousands of students from across the country.

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde plants a crafted heart in the Rideau Hall garden at the TRC's closing ceremony Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Wednesday's event marked the final in the four days centred on the release of Tuesday's landmark residential schools report — the work of six years and more than 6,000 interviews with witnesses.

The report made 94 recommendations, including drafting new and revised legislation for education, child welfare and aboriginal languages and the implementation of the UN's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Will action follow words?

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."

Words matter when talking TRC, says AFN chief

7 years ago
Duration 11:35
Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, asks why the government won't use the terms "cultural genocide" or "survivors" when talking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In Tuesday's question period, Harper said he would not yet commit to any of the report's recommendations. The Conservative government came under fire again during Wednesday's question period, where opposition MPs peppered Mark Strahl, the parliamentary secretary for the Aboriginal Affairs minister, with questions about the report's findings.

Speaking after his caucus meeting Wednesday morning, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called for a creation of a respectful "nation-to-nation relationship" in the wake of the report.

"I think it is incumbent on all members of parliament from all parties to work together to start finding answers to the questions that have been asked," he told reporters.

Mulcair was travelling to Newfoundland and Labrador and not in attendance at Wednesday's closing ceremony. 


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