Canada Faces Past Through Intergenerational Exchange

9/16/2013

This week, indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians alike will gather in British Columbia for dialogue and reflection on the legacy of Canada’s Residential Schools.

The event—held in Vancouver from September 18 to 21, 2013—is the 6th National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and will include statement gathering, traditional ceremonies, survivor gatherings, education day, witnessing survivor statements, cultural performances, films, and more.

ICTJ welcomes the National Event of the TRC, which is a part of the TRC’s journey towards completion of its mandate to learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools, and to inform all Canadians about this history.

“The story of the Indian Residential Schools should concern all Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal,” said Eduardo Gonzalez, director of ICTJ's Truth and Memory program. “Historical discrimination against one group, if ignored or condoned, poisons public life and entrenches prejudice and mistrust between communities."

"Also, it is not just useful for all Canadians to learn what happened; it is their right to know the truth, so as to prevent new abuses from happening again," said Gonzalez.

The week’s events will be streaming live via the website of the TRC. ICTJ will be following reports from the week via Facebook and Twitter feed.

Addressing Canada’s Legacy of State-sponsored Abuse

For more than 100 years, indigenous children—in British Columbia and other regions of Canada—were removed from their homes and communities, and placed in Residential Schools in which their cultural traditions and native languages were forbidden, and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse was commonplace.

Their legacies—loss of language and culture, and widespread emotional and societal problems such as substance abuse—persist today, both within indigenous communities and as a force shaping the relationship between those populations and the government.    
“The story of the Indian Residential Schools should concern all Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established in June 2008 with the mandate to investigate the truth about what happened in the government-sponsored, church-run Indian Residential Schools.

“Truth-telling is a critical step along the path to healing and recovery for those impacted by the residential schools and their legacy,” writes the BC First Nations Leadership Council in the introduction to the event’s program. “Bearing witness to the truths of others is equally important in moving towards reconciliation.”

Youth participation in the TRC has been a core effort to ensure that Canada’s next generation is connected to the history that so affected their parents, grandparents, and other elders.

ICTJ is pleased that the BC National Event is the fourth event with a dedicated Education Day, which provides a space for youth to learn about the legacy of Indian Residential Schools and to engage in the work of the TRC.

“Not all youth in Canada may know the details of the Residential Schools,” said Virginie Ladisch, head of ICTJ’s Children and Youth program. “But there is a high number of aboriginal youth who have grown up with the continued manifestations of the impact of such abuses, including high rates of alcoholism, suicide, and teenage pregnancies.”

As the TRC enters its final year, it will begin the process of preparing its work into a final report, which will synthesize several years’ worth of information gathered during the TRC’s activities.

Youth participation in the TRC has been a core effort to ensure that Canada’s next generation is connected to the history that so affected their parents, grandparents, and other elders.
    ICTJ’s Ladisch underscores the importance of producing a youth-friendly version of the report that is accessible and demonstrates the enduring, intergenerational impact of the violations in their findings and recommendations.

“In the final report, the TRC has an opportunity to ensure that future generations continue to encounter and understand how powerful this process has been for the country,” said Ladisch.

“By providing young people the space and encouragement to be a part of the truth-seeking process, the TRC has opened new ways for these youth to understand how their lives are connected to traumas of the past, and be a part of future efforts towards reconciliation.”

Commissioner Chief Wilton Littlechild on the Right to the Truth

This spring, ICTJ spoke with TRC Commissioner Chief Wilton Littlechild about his views on the meaning of truth:


Around the world, indigenous rights movements are adopting transitional justice measures of truth-seeking to address decades of acute injustices, and renew reconciliation efforts for generations of loss. ICTJ has worked with the Canada TRC through its Children and Youth program and Truth and Memory program. Download the recent ICTJ publication Strengthening Indigenous Rights through Truth Commissions, or read more about transitional justice and indigenous rights.
Photo (top): "Reclaim," by Alora Chollete for ICTJ