Residential Schools and the Work of the TRC
From 1831-1999, Canada and the Catholic church worked together in owning and operating “Indian Residential Schools” (Residential Schools) across the country (as seen on this map). These institutions were established as an attempt to assimilate Indigenous people into “Euro-Canadian culture.” The residential school system actively worked to eradicate Indigenous values and culture, while inflicting immense pain, suffering and abuse onto children in attendance. As a result of these abuses, the federal government has compensated a total of $2.8 billion dollars to victims in sexual abuse settlements (as of April 2015).
As part of the settlement in the Indian Residential Schools Agreement (the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history), the federal government was required to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to address the history and impact of residential schools. In 2008, twelve years after the last residential school was shut down in Canada, the TRC began to reveal events that took place under the supervision of the church and government. The TRC worked hard to ensure that survivors would be supported and included in the Commission, holding hearings across the country and providing support so that their stories could be heard. that Indigenous people would have access to their own history; that knowledge of residential schools would publicly accessible; and that history is preserved so it may never be forgotten or repeated.
After seven years of work, the TRC released its final report in 2015, a six-volume report culminating in 94 “calls to action” directed at governments, politicians, and policymakers, health care providers, post-secondary institutions, religious leaders, leaders in the legal profession, and others.
Although the TRC was dissolved following the publication of its report in 2015, the work of the Commission continues through the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). The NCTR is an archive founded at the University of Manitoba to hold the over five million documents relating to events that took place in residential schools brought forth by the federal government for the TRC, as well as the statements and documents brought forth by survivors. The work of the NCTR continues to allow both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to access, remember, and educate themselves on this history. The NCTR is currently in the process of digitizing their findings.
The Impact of the TRC
The TRC contributed substantially to public awareness of the history of residential schools, and their ongoing impact on Indigenous peoples in Canada. The TRC also had a significant impact in listening to survivors and making recommendations to advance reconciliation.
At the same time, it is unclear that the work of the TRC, and particularly its calls to action are changing the work of government. In 2016, history professor Ian Mosby began tracking the government’s progress on the 94 calls to action. In 2019, he partnered with the Yellowhead Institute, to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the progress made on each call to action. To date, the Yellowhead Institute has reported that of the 94 calls to action, only nine could be considered complete.
- A TEDx talk from Kevin Lamoureux, the Vice-President of Indigenous Affairs at the University of Winnipeg, about truth and reconciliation
- A TVO Docs Webseries entitled “First Things First” where Indigenous experts examine the meaning of consultation in Canada
- An animation from the CBC that presents Chief Robert Joseph’s experience in Canada’s residential schools, and the importance of truth and reconciliation for Indigenous peoples
- Gord Downie’s Secret Path project (video) incorporating music and a graphic novel to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack, who died escaping from a residential school.
Contributors: Mackenzie Kelly-Ingram, Emily Lo, Jacob Daniel Neal