The Current

TRC final report: Children in residential schools died escaping abuse

Thousands of First Nations children never came home from residential schools. As their stories re-emerge, the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission raises serious questions about the well being of new generations of First Nation, Metis and Inuit children.
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugs residential school survivor Eugene Arcand during the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report in Ottawa, December 15, 2015. Trudeau pledged to work toward full reconciliation with First Nations on Tuesday as he accepted a final report on the abuses of the government's now-defunct system of residential schools for indigenous children. (Reuters/Chris Wattie)

I just want to draw your attention to the two empty chairs who are here behind us. These symbolize the young ones, the boys and girls who never came home from residential schools.-  Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC, releasing final report on Tuesday.

Justice Murray Sinclair delivered the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission yesterday. The Commission heard six years of often painful testimony from more than six thousand people who survived Canada's residential school system ... and it did its best to piece together the stories of those who did not.

Sinclair: 'We would hold our children and grandchildren closer'

7 years ago
Duration 1:54
Chair Justice Murray Sinclair speaks about how the stories of residential schools survivors touched the commissioners of the TRC and Canadians.

The final report is nearly 4,000 pages long. And it details the horrifying experiences of  the First Nation, Metis and Inuit people who, as children, endured terrible abuse while being forcibly separated from their families.

While the TRC documented 3,200 children who died in residential schools. Justice Murray Sinclair, the chair of the commission, told CBC the deaths could be five to ten times higher. (United Church of Canada Archives)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report: By the numbers

♦ By the time the last residential school closed in 1996, 150,000 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students had passed through the system.

♦ To date, nearly 38,000 claims have been made for injuries resulting from physical and sexual abuse in residential schools.

♦ Nearly 31,000 of them were resolved by the end of last year with $3-billion in claims paid out to date.

The Residential School system has left a terrible legacy that still impacts the lives of aboriginal people in Canada today. And now, the work of implementing the 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will begin.

Chief Robert Joseph is a residential school survivor and the co-founder of Reconciliation Canada, a group that is working to engage all Canadians in the process of reconciliation. He was in Ottawa.

In many cases, children in the residential schools tried to escape from the abuse they were facing.

"I can remember the principal grabbing a hold of me by the hand and he stripped me and he started wacking me with a long webbed strap. He was setting an example if you do this, this is what's going to happen to you. And all the other boys were watching. You learn pretty quickly after you get those kind of beatings — not strappings it's literally beatings.-  Raymond Mason recalls abuse at a residential school

​Raymond Mason is not alone in having tried to escape. Many children ran away from residential schools and some died in the process.

Tim Fontaine is a reporter with the CBC's Aboriginal Unit in Winnipeg. 

Trudeau on the promise made with the TRC

7 years ago
Duration 2:01
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the TRC as the commission submits its final report on residential schools.

Now that the TRC report is out, where do we need to go from here? What does reconciliation mean to you?

You can email us. Tweet us your thoughts on the potential for reconciliation @TheCurrentCBC. Or find us on Facebook.

This segment was produced by The Current's Catherine Kalbfleisch and Ines Colabrese.