Youth Reporters Tell the Story of Residential Schools


As they were setting up video cameras and microphones for an interview with Former National Chief Phil Fontaine, a group of teenagers at ease with the complicated equipment could have easily been mistaken for professionals from CBC news. In fact, these were young reporters invited as part of an ongoing partnership between ICTJ’s Children and Youth Program and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada to the third national TRC event, held in Halifax October 26–29.

This weekend they are attending a follow-up retreat in Tatmagouche, Nova Scotia, where they will have a chance to discuss their experiences of the Halifax event. The retreat will give them an opportunity to clarify what they think needs to be shared about this experience, speak with Commissioner Marie Wilson about their role in the work of the TRC, and hear firsthand accounts of life in residential schools from a representative of the Survivor Committee. There will also be time to finalize their audio and video stories.

In an effort to engage more youth in the TRC process, 14 students from Nova Scotia along with their teachers attended the public hearings to document the work of the TRC, which they will turn into radio segments or short films. Ten of the students drove four hours from Waycobah Secondary School in Waycocomagh to attend the event with the others coming from a local high school Halifax West.

Before the first day at the Halifax event, most participants confessed they knew little about the work of the TRC. Many of them had heard about the Indian Residential Schools (IRS), the focus of Canada’s TRC, but not in great detail. As one student from Waycobah said, “My grandma went to a residential school; I tried to ask her questions but she was holding back because I guess she had a rough experience.”

Teaching Our Children- TRC Atlantic National Event from TRC - CVR on Vimeo.

One of the main goals of the TRC is to inform Canadians about what took place in residential schools and the impact the system continues to have in Canada. When asked if people need to know about the IRS, one student answered, “It is important to know how much damage it has done to the Mi’kmaq people.” Another pointed out, “A lot of people don’t know about the IRS which is a big problem; we should make everyone aware of it so that it won’t happen again.”

Currently, the history of the residential schools and the ongoing impact of this system are only partially taught in schools. In high schools in Nova Scotia this history is included only in the Mi’kmaq Studies course. Christine Bullock, a social studies teacher from Halifax West commented on the importance of teaching youth about this.

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“There is still a generalized stereotype existing, there is still a lot that is not known and this is contributing to discrimination. Society needs to learn the connection between a loss of culture and its repercussions in the emotional and psychological lives of people. If you are a Canadian you have to know this shared history before you finish school. Something’s got to change.”

Building on the work done last year at a youth retreat in Vancouver, the Youth Reporters Project is part of an effort to find innovative ways of facilitating greater youth involvement in transitional justice processes.

As is clear in Canada, the past still has a strong impact on the present. Many youth are not aware of what happened at Indian Residential Schools, if they have even heard of them at all. However, once they learn more about this system designed to “kill the Indian in the child,” they begin to make connections to the challenges facing the Aboriginal population and the present state of relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in Canada. “Youth listen to youth more than they do to adults,” remarked Christine Bullock. “They have a huge role to play not only in presenting the information but also in their shared shaping of the future of Canada.”