150 Years of Abuse, 5 Years of Truth
Funded by Ottawa and carried out by churches, the systematic assimilation of natives through residential schooling is a tragic, unsettling piece of Canadian history. As part of an out-of-court settlement that will pay out some $2 billion to survivors of the native school system, the government promised to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to record the tragedy for the history books. On Monday, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl announced that Justice Harry LaForme will be its chair. LaForme, a member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation of southern Ontario, is tasked with writing the “official history” of residential schools over the course of the commission’s five-year mandate. “Ultimately, we all want to make sure we achieve a fair and lasting resolution to the sad legacy of residential schools,” he said, as quoted in a CBC News article. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will serve as a nationwide forum for former aboriginal students, church representatives, and educators to tell their stories. The aim is, in short, to educate Canadians on the impact the residential school system had on some 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children who were removed from their communities at age six and forced to attend these schools, where they fell victim to widespread physical and sexual abuse.
LaForme’s $60-million commission will be independent from government, church, and First Nations groups, and will have “unfettered access” to all archives as it explores the 150-year history of residential schools. The task is characterized as monumental, as many former students and school employees are long dead, and many key documents and records have been destroyed. LaForme sees similarities between Canada’s Indian residential schools and South African apartheid, reports the Globe. The commission is, after all, modeled on the commission in South Africa, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, that explored that country’s policy of segragating black people from white. Strahl indicated that the government plans to make a formal apology to the ninety thousand victims and their families before Parliament breaks for the summer, reports the Post. The commission will be formally established on June 1.
Claire Ward is a Toronto-based MediaScout writer for Maisonneuve Magazine.