ICTJ Forum: Education, Truth, and Reconciliation in Canada



In this edition of the ICTJ Forum, Virginie Ladisch, head of ICTJ's Children and Youth program, speaks with Marie Wilson, a Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), about her reflections on her role in the commission and its relationship with education.

Wilson is one of three Commissioners overseeing the Canadian TRC, which was formally established in June 2008 as a response to the legacy of Indian residential schools in which indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools as a means of assimilation into Canadian culture.

Commissoner Wilson joined ICTJ and UNICEF for a two-day roundtable on transitional justice, education and peacebuilding. Read more about the roundtable here.

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In the discussion with Virginie Ladisch, Wilson talks about why she believes truth commissions should include education in their work and the role that education plays in the Canadian TRC.

"If we are talking about transitional justice as a vehicle and a process of transformational change in a society, then we have to be investing in the upcoming generation of children who are going to become the adult leaders in no time at all,” Wilson says, “Who need to understand where their country is coming from in order to learn the lessons that are available from that but also be informed so that they can be part of guiding it forward in a good way.”

Wilson reflects on the context of the Canadian system of forced residential schooling that spanned over a 150-year period in their history. "Education is not just a vehicle and a tool—education is really at the heart of the story itself, and in fact, the place where the harms took place," she says.

Part of the goal of the policy was to remove a distinct indigenous identity from the Canadian landscape, she explains.

"It was not armed conflict, but the schools became the weapon, and indeed the children themselves became some of the ammunition,” says Wilson. “Their job was to go home and be so different from their parents—both in terms of the languages they spoke, the way they thought, the spiritual beliefs that they had, the conversion to Christianity which was implicit. They were to go home and therefore be an influence over their parents, so that their parents could then get in line along with those stated goals.”

She says that as a big part of the historical problem, schools now have the potential and the opportunity to be a huge part of the pathway towards restoration of respectful relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada.

Ladisch and Wilson also discuss the idea that the educational process and its principles—not just the end goal of reconciliation—is of utmost importance.

The process, as it has been unfolding in Canada, has allowed for a different kind of reconciliation to take place, in which people see each other in new ways and begin to appreciate and respect each other's expertise in new ways, reflects Wilson.

"As a country, we have an enormous amount of remedial learning to do about ourselves, and as a society, we have a tremendous opportunity to reframe our notion of our own history, to be honest about that,” Wilson says.

“Not to make ourselves feel badly about ourselves, but to be honest about it so that we can start to live into the values that we hold as being Canadian values and that we espouse in the wider world.”

This podcast is part of a special series on the relationship between transitional justice, education and peacebuilding, developed from ongoing research collaboration between ICTJ and UNICEF. Learn more about the research project here.

Photo: Commissioner Marie Wilson, New York, October 2014 (ICTJ)