Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Commission de vérité et réconciliation du Canada
TRC Canada Logo.svg
Agency overview
FormedJune 2, 2008 (2008-06-02)
DissolvedDecember 18, 2015 (2015-12-18)
Superseding agency
TypeTruth and reconciliation commission
JurisdictionGovernment of Canada
Headquarters1500-360 Main Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Websitewww.trc.ca

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC; French: Commission de vérité et réconciliation du Canada) was a truth and reconciliation commission active in Canada from 2008 to 2015, organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The Commission was officially established on June 1, 2008 with the purpose of documenting the history and lasting impacts of the Canadian Indian residential school system on Indigenous[nb 1] students and their families. It provided residential school survivors[nb 2] an opportunity to share their experiences during public and private meetings held across the country. The TRC emphasizes that it has a priority of displaying the impacts of the residential schools to the Canadians who have been kept in the dark from these matters.[4]

In June 2015, the TRC released an Executive Summary of its findings along with 94 "calls to action" regarding reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples. The Commission officially concluded in December 2015 with the publication of a multi-volume final report that concluded the school system amounted to cultural genocide. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which opened at the University of Manitoba in November 2015, is an archival repository home to the research, documents, and testimony collected during the course of the TRC's operation.

Background[edit]

They Came for the Children, published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The TRC was established in June 2008 as one of the mandated aspects of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).[5][6][7] As part of the negotiated IRSSA a $60 million budget over five years was established for the work of the TRC to take place.[6] A one-year extension was granted in January 2014 to allow for the completion of the TRC's mandate, extending the conclusion of the commission to June 2015.[8]

The commission was founded as an arms-length organization with a mandate of documenting the history and impacts of the residential school system. As explained in the 2013 Spring Report of the Auditor General of Canada, a key part of the TRC mandate included "creating as complete a historical record as possible of the residential school system and legacy."[9] It was also tasked with preserving collected records documenting the residential school system and those created over the course of the commission's work for future management at a national research centre.[7][9] While undertaking this task the TRC spent six years travelling to different parts of Canada to hear the testimony of more than 6,500 witnesses including residential school survivors and others impacted by the school system.[10][11]

The mandate of the TRC included hosting seven national reconciliation events, collecting all relevant archival documents relating to the residential schools from church and government bodies, collecting statements from survivors, and overseeing a commemoration fund to support community reconciliation events.[12] The TRC's mandate emphasized preserving and exposing the true history of residential schools.[13]

The TRC contributed to not only educating the public about the reality of the residential schools, but also lead to creating organizations such as the "Missing Children Project." Over the course of the residential schools, thousands of children died as a result of diseases, suicide, malnutrition, etc.[4] In 1917 the death rates stopped from being documented by the Department of Indian Affairs.[4] The Missing Children Project is an organization that is dedicated to identifying the children who died during their time at the residential schools.[4] The documentation is done through intensive research as well as analyzing the different conditions the students were facing.[4]

In March 2008, Indigenous leaders and church officials embarked on a multi-city 'Remembering the Children' tour to promote activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[14] On January 21–22, 2008, the King's University College of Edmonton, Alberta, held an interdisciplinary studies conference on the subject of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. On June 11 of the same year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the role of past governments in administration of the residential schools.[15] Later in 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also vocalized an apology to those whom were victims of the residential schools.[16]

The commission's mandate was originally scheduled to end in 2014, with a final event in Ottawa. However, it was extended to 2015 as numerous records related to residential schools were provided to the commission in 2014 by Library and Archives Canada following a January 2013 order of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.[17] The commission needed additional time to review these documents. The commission held its closing event in Ottawa from May 31 to June 3, 2015, including a ceremony at Rideau Hall with Governor General David Johnston.

Testimonies[edit]

The mandate of IRSSA required the TRC to gather testimonies from the residential school's survivors.[18] The testimonies were claimed to be necessary in order for the mandate to create a historical record of the legacy and impacts of the residential schools.[18] The historical record was also important in educating the public on "the truth of what happened" in Canada. The records of the testimonies and documents of the residential schools are open to the public in a National Research Centre.[18]

Between 2008 and 2014 the TRC gathered what is estimated to be around 7000 testimonies from the survivors,[19] most from those who had attended the schools after the 1940s.[20] The testimonies were gathered in both public and private settings, such as community hearings, sharing circles, Commissioners Sharing Panels, etc.[18] The Commissioners Panels often brought large audiences, drawing hundreds of audience members and reporters with testimonies regularly being recorded and posted online. During the public testimonies, survivors detailed their experiences surrounding the residential schools.[21] These regularly consisted of memories of being stripped of their language and culture[22] as well as experiences of abuse, sexual assault, malnutrition.[21]

Commission name[edit]

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was named in a similar fashion to the commissions by the same name in Chile in 1990 and South Africa in 1996.[23] In this context reconciliation means: the act of restoring a once harmonious relationship.[24] The Commission came under criticism for using the term 'reconciliation' in their name, as it implies that there was once a harmonious relationship between settlers and Indigenous peoples that is being restored, while that relationship may never have existed in Canada.[25]:35 The use of the term reconciliation perpetuates that myth by continuing to deny "the existence of pre-contact Aboriginal sovereignty".[25]:35

Commission staff[edit]

Justice Harry S. Laforme of the Ontario Court of Appeal was named to chair the Commission. He resigned on October 20, 2008, citing insubordination by the two other commissioners, Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Brewin Morley. Laforme said they wanted to focus primarily on uncovering and documenting truth while he wanted to also have an emphasis on reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians. In addition: "The two commissioners are unprepared to accept that the structure of the commission requires that the commission's course is to be charted and its objectives are to be shaped ultimately through the authority and leadership of its chair."[26] Although Dumont-Smith and Morley denied the charge and initially stayed on,[27] both resigned in January 2009.

On June 10, 2009 Murray Sinclair was appointed to replace Laforme as chairperson of the TRC. Marie Wilson, a senior executive with the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and Wilton Littlechild, former Conservative Member of Parliament and Alberta regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, were appointed to replace commissioners Dumont-Smith and Morley.[28]

Calls to action[edit]

In June 2015 the TRC released a summary report of its findings and "94 Calls to Action" to "redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation". The calls to action were divided into two categories: "Legacy" and "Reconciliation":[29]

Legacy The legacy section of the calls to action focused on redressing the harms resulting from the Indian residential schools, the proposed actions are identified in the following sub-categories:

  1. Child welfare: Residential schools often served as foster homes rather than educational settings. According to a 1953 survey, 4,313 children of 10,112 residential school children were described as either orphans or originated from broken homes.[30] The sole residential school in Canada's Atlantic Provinces, in Shubenacadie, N.S., was one such school, taking in children whom child welfare agencies believed to be at risk. There is an ongoing legacy of state intervention in Indigenous children lives via the child welfare system. By 2011, 3.6% of all First Nations children under the age of 14 were in foster care, compared to 0.3% for non-lndigenous children.[31] In 2012, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child voiced concern on Canada's removal of Indigenous children from their families as a 'first resort'.[32]
  2. Education: Due to limited funds, a shortage of trained teachers, and an emphasis on manual labour, many students in the IRS system did not progress beyond a rudimentary education. When residential schools were phased out, Indigenous youth enrolled in provincial schools dropped out in large numbers. The education focused calls to action are to address the current school completion rates and the income gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. In addition, the calls to actions request the elimination of the ongoing discrepancy in funding of Indigenous education.
  3. Language and Culture: Children in residential schools were not allowed to speak their native languages or practice their culture. According to UNESCO, 36% of Canada's Indigenous languages are listed as being critically endangered.[33] The calls to action request increased funding for educating children in Indigenous languages and also request that post-secondary institutions provide degrees and diplomas in Indigenous languages.
  4. Health: Healthcare for IRS students varied considerably between schools and between different decades. After the 1940s, health facilities and health care workers became more prevalent. Some schools had a nurse on staff and an infirmary, with doctors who paid visits. Testimony before the TRC reveals that a great many children were subjected to sexual and physical abuse while attending a residential school. It is often claimed that the effects of the trauma have been passed on to the children of those students. The calls to action in this connection connect the poor healthcare provided at residential school to the current gap in health outcomes for Indigenous people in Canada.
  5. Justice: When the Canadian legal system was tasked with investigating abuse claims, few prosecutions resulted from police investigations. In many cases, the federal government and the RCMP compromised the investigations. Given the statutes of limitations, many acts of abuse have gone unpunished because the children did not have the means or possess the knowledge to seek justice for their abuses. The calls to action around justice seek to extend the statutes of limitations and to reaffirm the independence of the RCMP. They also speak to the need to develop culturally appropriate justice systems.

Reconciliation The Reconciliation section of the calls to action were focused on creating better relations between the federal and provincial governments of Canada and Indigenous nations, with an emphasis on creating a reconciled relationship. The proposed actions are identified in the following sub-categories:

  1. Canadian governments and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People
  2. Royal proclamation and covenant of reconciliation
  3. Settlement agreement parties and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  4. Equity for Aboriginal people in the legal system
  5. National council for reconciliation
  6. Professional development and training for public servants
  7. Church apologies and reconciliation
  8. Education for reconciliation
  9. Youth programs
  10. Museums and archives
  11. Missing children and burial information
  12. National centre for truth and reconciliation
  13. Commemoration
  14. Media and reconciliation
  15. Sports and reconciliation
  16. Business and reconciliation
  17. Newcomers to Canada

Implementation[edit]

In 2016 and 2017 historian Ian Mosby evaluated how many of the calls to action had been completed at the one year and two year anniversary marks. In 2016 he concluded that only five calls were complete and three calls were partially complete, leaving 86 calls unmet.[34] In 2017 his evaluation showed that only 7 of the 94 calls have been completed.[35]

In 2018 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation established the Beyond 94 website to track the status of each call to action.[36] As of March 2018, 10 were marked as completed, 15 were in-progress with projects underway, 25 had projects proposed, and 44 were unmet.[37] As of July 29, 2019, the Beyond 94 website has been updated to mark 10 calls to action completed, 21 in-progress with projects underway, 37 in-progress with projects proposed, and 26 "not yet started".[36]

As of September 2019, the following ten proposals are marked as "complete":

  • Language and Culture (#13)- Acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights: In 2017, the Minister for Heritage Mélanie Joly announced, in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the Métis National Council, that they would be co-developing an Indigenous Languages Act for the protection and promotion of Indigenous languages across Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit cultures.[38]
  • Justice (#39)- Collect and publish data on the criminal victimization of Aboriginal people: Statistics Canada published a report in 2016 entitled Victimization of Aboriginal people in Canada, 2014 utilizing data from the 2014 General Social Survey.[39] The report found that higher levels of Indigenous Canadians were found to have been victims of crime in 2014 than non-Indigenous Canadians.[39]
  • Justice (#41)- Appoint a public inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls: In the immediate aftermath of the 2015 federal election, the new Trudeau government announced a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The inquiry commenced in 2016, and concluded on June 3, 2019,[40] and included numerous recommendations for addressing the "endemic violence" faced by Indigenous women in Canada.[40]
  • Reconciliation (#84)- Restore and increase funding to the CBC/Radio-Canada to enable it to support reconciliation: The federal government allotted an additional 75 million dollars towards the CBC in its 2016 budget. The CBC presented an "Accountability Plan" to make public how those funds were being invested. Though the Commission called specifically for increased Indigenous programming, under the Broadcasting Act it is impossible for public funds to be put towards specific programming. However, the amount of programming by and for Indigenous peoples has increased on the CBC since 2016.[41]
  • Reconciliation (#85)- Aboriginal Peoples Television Network to support reconciliation: The commission called on the Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN) to produce and broadcast content by and for Indigenous peoples supporting reconciliation. This initiative was upheld by APTN, with the launch of their series TAKEN in 2016 centring on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.[42]
  • Reconciliation (#87)- Tell the stories of Aboriginal athletes in history: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame included a segment about Indigenous athletes throughout Canadian history in an online exhibit launched in 2017. This was followed by the inclusion of various Indigenous athletes into the British Columbia Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, and the Toronto Hockey Hall of Fame.[43]
  • Reconciliation (#88)- Continued support for the North American Indigenous Games: the Canadian government promised in 2017 to contribute $18.9 million to funding "culturally relevant" sports programs in Indigenous communities over 5 years, with 5.5 million promised every 4 years after 2022, as a collaboration between the Ministry of Sport and Persons with Disabilities and the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.[44]
  • Reconciliation (#59)- Church parties to residential school settlement to educate congregations on why apologies necessary: 67 percent of residential schools were run by the Catholic Church, and Anglican, United and Presbyterian church made up the remaining 33 percent.[45] These churches began to apologize beginning with the United Church of Canada in 1986[46] with the others following in the years thereafter.[47][48] In 2009 the Vatican issued an official expression of sorrow,[49] and Justin Trudeau requested that an official apology be made in 2017.[50] The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on all churches involved in the facilitation of the Indian Residential Schools to educate their congregations about the church's involvement in the schools and the impacts of colonialism on Indigenous peoples. This is done primarily through KAIROS Canada, a faith-based advocacy group.[43]
  • Reconciliation (#83)- Canada Council for the Arts to establish a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects: the Canadian Council for the Arts gave $17.8 million in funds to Indigenous artists in 2017–18, and is on track to triple its 2015-16 investment of $6.3 million to $18.9 million in 2020–21, as detailed in their 2016-2021 Strategic Plan.[51]
  • Reconciliation (#90)- Ensure that national sports policies, programs and initiatives are inclusive of Aboriginal Peoples: After the release of the Commission's report in 2015,Sport Canada announced that it would be reinstating funding to the Aboriginal Sport Circle, which is a national organization advocating for resources for Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit athletic programs. The federal government also allocated 47.5 million dollars to sport development in over 300 communities nationwide.[43]

Final report[edit]

In December 2015 the TRC released its final report. The report was based upon primary and secondary source research undertaken by the commission and testimonies collected from residential school survivors during TRC events. The final report summarized the work of the TRC and included the following sections: "Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future", "What We Have Learned," "The Survivors Speak," "The History, Part 1 - Origins to 1939," "The History, Part 2 - 1939 to 2000," "The Inuit and Northern Experience," "The Métis Experience," "Missing Children and Unmarked Burials," "The Legacy," and "Reconciliation."[52]

The report noted that an estimated 150,000 children attended residential schools during its 120-year history and an estimated 3200 of those children died in the residential schools.[53] From the 70,000 former IRS students still alive, there were 31,970 sexual or serious sexual assault cases resolved by Independent Assessment Process, and 5,995 claims were still in progress as of the report's release.[53]

The TRC concluded that the removal of children from the influence of their own culture with the intent of assimilating them into the dominant Canadian culture amounted to cultural genocide.[54]:1 The ambiguity of the TRC's phrasing allowed for the interpretation that physical and biological genocide also occurred. The TRC was not authorized to conclude that physical and biological genocide occurred, as such a finding would imply a legal responsibility of the Canadian government that would be difficult to prove. As a result, the debate about whether the Canadian government also committed physical and biological genocide against Indigenous populations remains open.[55][56]

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) was established at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, as an archive to hold the research, documents, and testimony collected by the TRC during its operation.[57] The NCTR opened to the public in November 2015 and holds more than five million documents relating to the legacy of residential schools in Canada.[57]

Criticisms[edit]

A number of critiques about the TRC have been put forward by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers, ranging from its scope and motivating framework to its methodology and conclusions. Professor Glen Coulthard, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, has argued that the TRC's focus on the residential school system positioned reconciliation as a matter of "overcoming a 'sad chapter' in [Canadian] history,"[58]:125 which failed to recognize the ongoing nature and impact of colonialism. For Coulthard, reconciliation being tied solely to the residential school system and actions of the past explains why Prime Minister Stephen Harper was able to apologize for the system in 2008 and, a year later, claim that there is no history of colonialism in Canada.[59] Professors Brian Rice, a member of the Mohawk Nation, and Anna Snyder agree with Coulthard's critique of the focus on residential schools as the singular issue to reconcile noting that the schools were only "one aspect of a larger project to absorb or assimilate Aboriginal people".[60]:51

Many writers have observed the way the TRC historicizes the events of colonialism and fails to emphasize that uneven Indigenous-settler relationships are perpetual and ongoing .[61] Historicizing is further evident in the TRC's 'Principles of Reconciliation' where reconciliation is framed as grappling with harms of the past.[62] This is problematic because it implies that colonialism is not ongoing and is not part of current government policy.[58] Because of this historicizing, the TRC concentrated its efforts largely on 'psychological' healing through the gathering and airing of stories; however, it lacked significant institutional change, particularly change to the kinds of government institutions involved in residential schools and other forms of colonial domination.[58]:121

Another criticism of the Commission is that reconciliation is introduced "on terms still largely dictated by the state".[58]:127 Rather than allowing a grassroots movement to gain traction or forms of 'moral protest' to develop. Because it was the government that initiated the process of reconciliation and set the terms of it, some critics argued that because the colonial power is dictating the terms of their colonial subjects' healing.[58]:167 and "[imposing] a time limit on 'healing'"; in order to move past it makes it less effective as a platform for reconciliation.[61]:36 The approach by the Commission to engage with Indigenous peoples when and how it is most convenient for settlers can be seen as "yet another form of settler colonialism".[63]:3 Because Indigenous "recognition and reconciliation, from a Canadian perspective, [is] focused only on the wrongs of the past, and the situation as it exists today is ignored".[59]

Unlike the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, the Canadian commission was not a federal or state-led initiative. It was developed as part of a legal settlement, the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, between various residential school survivor groups, the Assembly of First Nations, various Church bodies and Canada. As such, the TRC had no powers of subpoena, no power to offer known perpetrators of abuse the possibility of amnesty in exchange for honest testimony about any abuses that may have been committed. Further, the commission could not explicitly "name names" or accuse individuals; perpetrators held accountable via the commission. Therefore, the Canadian commission heard primarily from former students.[54]

Questioning of findings[edit]

Hymie Rubenstein, a retired professor of anthropology, and Rodney A. Clifton, professor emeritus of education and a residential school supervisor in the 1960s, held that, while the residential school program had been harmful to many students, the commission had shown "indifference to robust evidence gathering, comparative or contextual data, and cause-effect relationships," which resulted in the commission's report telling "a skewed and partial story".[64]

The Truth and Reconciliation Report did not compare its findings with rates and causes of mortality among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children attending public schools. Rubenstein and Clifton noted that the report also failed to consider Indian residential schools were typically located in rural areas far from hospitals, making treatment more difficult to acquire.[65]

In March 2017, Lynn Beyak, a Conservative member of the Senate Standing Committee of Aboriginal Peoples, voiced disapproval of the final TRC report, saying that it had omitted an "abundance of good" that was present in the schools.[66][67] Although Beyak's right to free speech was defended by some Conservative senators, her comments were widely criticized, including by Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett and leader of the New Democratic Party Tom Mulcair.[68] The Anglican Church also raised concerns stating in a release co-signed by bishops Fred Hiltz and Mark MacDonald: "There was nothing good about children going missing and no report being filed. There was nothing good about burying children in unmarked graves far from their ancestral homes."[69][70] In response, the Conservative Party leadership removed Beyak from the Senate committee underscoring that her comments did not align with the views of the party.[68]

Legacy[edit]

In August 2017 Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky released "150 Acts of Reconciliation for the Last 150 Days of Canada's 150" with a call to Canadians to engage in meaningful reconciliation work and think about the TRC's calls to action.[71]

In August 2018, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society announced the release of the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, an encyclopedia with content including information about indigenous lands, languages, communities, treaties, and cultures, and topics such as the Canadian Indian residential school system, racism, and cultural appropriation.[72] It was created to address the Calls to Action, among them the development of "culturally appropriate curricula" for Aboriginal Canadian students.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Indigenous has been capitalized in keeping with the style guide of the Government of Canada.[1] The capitalization also aligns with the style used within the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the Canadian context, Indigenous is capitalized when discussing peoples, cultures or communities in the same way European or Canadian is used to refer to non-Indigenous topics or people.[2]
  2. ^ Survivor is the term used in the final report of the TRC and the Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools issued by Stephen Harper on behalf of the Government of Canada in 2008.[3]

References[edit]

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