We must be honest about the real two solitudes in this country, that between Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens, and commit to doing tangible things to close the divide in awareness, understanding and relationships.… We can no longer afford to be strangers to each other in this country that we now share. We could actually come to know each other not just as labels or hyphenated Canadians but rather as neighbors and as friends, as people that we care about.
– Dr. Marie Wilson (award-winning print, radio, and television journalist; university lecturer; commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission)
Like other policies under the Indian Act, the negative effects of residential schools were passed from generation to generation. Indigenous Peoples have been working hard to overcome the legacy of residential schools and to change the realities for themselves, their families, and their Nations. The federal government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) to deal with the legacy of residential schools. Its mandate was to accumulate, document, and commemorate the experiences of the 80,000 survivors of the residential school system in Canada, so the survivors could begin to heal from the trauma of these experiences.
The TRC had two overarching goals:
- to document the experiences of all survivors, families, and communities personally affected by residential schools – including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis former residential school students and their families and communities, the churches, former school employees, government, and other Canadians
- to teach all Canadians about what happened in residential schools
The TRC pursued truth by gathering people’s stories and statements, researching government records, and providing public education. The TRC saw reconciliation as an ongoing individual and collective process.
The TRC’s 94 Calls to Action
The TRC built on the Government of Canada’s “Statement of Reconciliation” dated January 7, 1998. The commission completed its work on December 18, 2015. However, the journey of Truth and Reconciliation is far from over.
The TRC produced several reports based on the histories and stories of residential school survivors. One of the most significant reports is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, which proposes 94 specific calls to action aimed at redressing the legacy of residential schools and advancing the process of Canadian reconciliation. You can read more at the Reconciliation Canada website.
The work of the TRC was not just about documenting a particularly difficult part of Indigenous history in Canada. It was rooted in the belief that telling the truth about our common history gives us a much better starting point in building a better future. By ending the silences under which Indigenous Peoples have suffered for many decades, the TRC opened the possibility that we may all come to see each other and our different histories more clearly and be able to work together in a better way to resolve issues that have long divided us. It is the beginning of a new kind of hope.
Activity 1: Stolen Children: Voices (30 min)
This 20 minute CBC mini-documentary Stolen Children: Voices shares stories from survivors and the effects of residential school on their culture, community, and families.
Reflect on Stolen Children
- What was the most shocking part of the video? What was the hardest part to understand or accept?
- What would have happened to you as a child if you had been taken away from your family?
- How do you think the impacts of these schools might still be affecting Indigenous Peoples today?
Activity 2: Tons of stuff you need to know
In this book, First Nations 101: tons of stuff you need to know about First Nations peoples, Tsimshian author Lynda Gray discusses and debunks many stereotypes and misinformation about First Nations people. Read this book to learn more, and then share this book with others.