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Residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children.
During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents' wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there is an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.
On June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government of Canada, delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons to former students, their families, and communities for Canada's role in the operation of the residential schools.
With the support of the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit organizations, former residential school students took the federal government and the churches to court. Their cases led to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history. The agreement sought to begin repairing the harm caused by residential schools. Aside from providing compensation to former students, the agreement called for the establishment of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with a budget of $60-million over five years.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has a mandate to learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools and to inform all Canadians about what happened in the schools. The Commission will document the truth of what happened by relying on records held by those who operated and funded the schools, testimony from officials of the institutions that operated the schools, and experiences reported by survivors, their families, communities and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience and its subsequent impacts.
The Commission hopes to guide and inspire First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and Canadians in a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect.
The Commission views reconciliation as an ongoing individual and collective process that will require participation from all those affected by the residential school experience. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis former students, their families, communities, religious groups, former Indian Residential School employees, government, and the people of Canada.
What will the TRC do?
The TRC will:
- Prepare a complete historical record on the policies and operations of residential schools.
- Complete a public report including recommendations to the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
- Establish a national research centre that will be a lasting resource about the IRS legacy.
- Provide a holistic, culturally appropriate and safe setting for former students, their families and communities in which to share their experiences with the Commission.
- Anyone affected by the residential schools experience might share his or her story by providing a written or recorded statement, in a private one-on-one interview or through a public discussion.
- Participation is voluntary and participants can choose how they want to share.
- Host seven national events in different regions across Canada.
- Support community events designed by individual communities to meet their unique needs.
- Coordinate document collection and undertake specific research to be incorporated into the TRC Report and the National Research Centre.
- Support outreach, media and communication efforts.
- Support commemoration activities that honour residential schools survivors and pay tribute in a lasting manner, in partnership with INAC.
Missing Children & Unmarked Burials:
- The Commission has accepted the Missing Children and Unmarked Grave Working Group’s Recommendations and has agreed to support the "Missing Children Research Project."
- Recommendations include:
- Examination of the number and cause of deaths, illnesses, disappearances of children;
- Location of burial sites;
- Review of all relevant church and government records, as well as information provided by survivors, staff, or anyone else.
- Health Supports will be provided by Health Canada at all TRC events.
- Health supports include professional counseling, Resolution Health Support Workers and Elder support.
- Commissioners provide vision and direction to the Executive Director and senior management team, who work together to carry out the mandate of the TRC.
- The TRC's national head office is in Winnipeg. The TRC has a smaller office in Ottawa. Over time, the TRC will engage a limited number of staff in each region of the country.
- The 10-member Indian Residential School Survivor Committee advises the Commission.
- Regional Liaisons hired by the TRC will provide a link between the TRC and communities for the purpose of coordinating national and community events and public awareness.