Six years and more than 6,000 testimonies later, the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was released to the world, detailing the horrors experienced by Canada’s indigenous peoples within the residential school system.
The stories of children who were physically and sexually abused in those schools run over 4,000 pages, broken down into seven volumes.
At the presentation of the document to the public, held in Ottawa on Dec. 15, two chairs sat empty at the front of the room – to symbolize the 3,200 some children who died in residential schools, though TRC commissioner Justice Murray Sinclair believes the actual number to be higher.
“Dual and related myths of indigenous inferiority and European superiority has caused all of us to think and talk about each other in very negative ways,” Sinclair said. “Our calls to action address the important role that public education in the future will play to fix that. It is our intention that the calls to action will bring about a new era for all of Canada, for indigenous and non-indigenous people alike.”
He also vouched for the inclusion of all indigenous peoples in the “circle of reconciliation,” noting that some indigenous youth – specifically, Métis youth – who were taken into boarding schools under legislation outside of the settlement agreement that precluded the residential school system.
“In the absence of any direct involvement by the previous prime minister in any of our Truth and Reconciliation hearings or national events, today will mark the first time that we hear an official response to our work from the prime minister of Canada on behalf of all the people of Canada,” said TRC commissioner Dr. Marie Wilson.
Speaking to a crowd filled with indigenous people and their allies, with glazed eyes and tissue in hand Trudeau acknowledged the gap in his own education on the subject of residential schools, promising to better educate the next generation – one of the priorities stressed in the TRC recommendations.
“Our goal, as we move forward together, is clear,” Trudeau said. “It is to lift this burden from your shoulders, from those of your families and communities. It is to accept fully our responsibilities and our failings, as a government and as a country.”
Trudeau had already announced the Liberal government’s commitment to take action on all 94 TRC recommendations.
Later in the week, he followed up the release of the report by announcing he would urge Pope Francis to officially apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”
The federal government also agreed to remove section 43 of the Criminal Code, which allows parents to spank their children without prosecution, number six on the list of recommendations.
“We will remember that reconciliation is not an Aboriginal issue, it is a Canadian issue,” he said.
“It’s definitely a start of a new era that respects indigenous rights and interests as we look forward to building a renewed partnership with the Crown and churches,” said Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, responding to the report in a press release. “Our mutual respect and willingness to trust and work together ensures that indigenous peoples will not be eradicated after 130 years of oppression and residential school experience.
“It’s a regrettable part of Canadian history,” Erasmus said, adding that the Crown and the churches admit their wrongs and clearly want to move ahead with a new spirit. “We welcome this as 2015 concludes and look forward to a new year of prosperity and good will.”