The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada 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 students and their families.
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, but differed from those in that the Canadian TRC was not a federal or state-led initiative. It was developed as part of a 2006 legal settlement, the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, between various residential school survivor groups, the Assembly of First Nations, various Church bodies, and the Government of Canada. As such, the Canadian 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. Consequently, the Canadian commission heard primarily from former residential school students.
The inclusion of the term ‘Reconciliation’ in the commission’s name came under criticism of implying that there was once a harmonious relationship between settlers and Indigenous peoples that is being restored. It was argued that such a
relationship may never have existed in Canada, the use of reconciliation thereby perpetuating such myth by continuing to deny “the existence of pre-contact Aboriginal sovereignty”.
The mandate of the TRC included hosting seven national reconciliation events across Canada, 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. The TRC’s mandate emphasized preserving and exposing the true history of residential schools.
After a series of community visits and regional events held by the Commission in our province during 2011-2012, the BC National Event was held in Vancouver September 19-21 2013.
Between 2008 and 2014 the TRC gathered what is estimated to be around 7000 testimonies from residential school survivors. These testimonies were gathered in both public and private settings such as community hearings, sharing circles, Commissioners Sharing Panels, etc. During the public testimonies, survivors detailed their experiences surrounding the residential schools. These regularly consisted of memories of being stripped of their language and culture as well as experiences of abuse, sexual assault and malnutrition.
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. Its six volume final report was released in December 2015 and can be viewed through the following link: https://nctr.ca/about/history-of-the-trc/trc-website/
The findings of the Commission have come under criticism by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons. It has been accused of ‘historicizing’ the effects of the residential schools and failing to recognize/address the ongoing nature and impact of colonialism. It has also been accused of indifference to robust evidence gathering, comparative or contextual data, and cause-effect relationships, resulting in the commission’s report telling a skewed and partial story.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation 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. 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.
Compiled by: Quentin Goodbody