International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Canada’s Truth Commission and the Trauma of Residential Schools

This is a really interesting Globe and Mail article  –“Hearings reopen old wounds for residential school survivor” – that details that background on the Canadian TRC and aboriginal residential schools. Here is a segment:

“I never realized the depth of my own story until I heard their stories,” said Mr. John, who stood back from the podium, tried to start speaking again, but couldn’t as the tears flowed. “It haunts me.”

Mr. John, who is the leader of B.C.’s largest aboriginal organization, spoke at the opening of the commission’s two-day stop in Victoria, which as many as 2,000 survivors and their families are expected to attend.  The gathering will include traditional ceremonies and survivor gatherings, as well as formal statements as the commission pursues its mandate of helping survivors heal and creating a complete historical record of Canada’s Indian residential school system.

The commission’s interim report, published in February, found Canadians know very little about aboriginal people and residential schools, and recommended schools teach about the physical and sexual abuse and neglect suffered at the schools….

Mr. John said the burden of the residential school system is having to come to terms with being part of a government and church system that was designed to erase aboriginal culture, spirit and way of life. “That is why this is a mixed-up place for many of us, this place we have to talk about,” he said.

“We were supposed to kill our languages, our cultures. We were that vehicle for which this was supposed to happen. That’s the burden we have to bear. It was through us that our languages were denied. But we were children and we didn’t know.”

The TRC should hopefully contribute to both greater knowledge of the abuses, also for the wider Canadian public, and acknowledgement for the victims.


2 responses to “Canada’s Truth Commission and the Trauma of Residential Schools

  1. claudialora April 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    This article demonstrates the importance of a Truth Commission for victims that have endured a pattern of abuses in the past. During the 19th century the Canadian government established church-run schools for Aboriginal children, with the intention of eradicating their native roots and helping them assimilate to the Canadian culture. Throughout this period Aboriginal children were removed from their communities and forced to attend schools in which they learned English or French, adopted Christian beliefs and were forbidden to practice any type of native customs. The rupture of Aboriginal family ties was therefore inevitable, due to language barrier between children and parents. Victims were isolated for so long that it resulted very difficult for them to maintain a normal lifestyle after leaving their residential schools. Overall these kids were subjected to physical, emotional and in some cases sexual abuses for several years, and the government has not done much to inform the Canadian population about this historical and shameful event. In 2007 the victims did receive an apology from the government as well as a financial compensation. Nonetheless I do not believe the governemtn has doen enough monetary compensation will not erase the years of mistreatment and isolation Aboriginal children had to endured, on the other hand the TRC has provided victims the opportunity to share their stories and educate the nation. It has also given them the opportunity to name and testify against their aggressors, given them in some way restorative justice.
    Truth Commission is by no means a perfect system, the truth telling process can be very traumatizing for victims, making them relive their negative expereince. However in this situation in which victims abuse have not acknowledge for so many years, Truth Reconcilliation commission seems like the best option.

  2. adele71890 April 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    There is a lot of truth and reconciliation left to be sought and done. I think the commission’s aim is to educate Canadians about residential school history and attempt to facilitate reconciliation among aboriginal communities, churches, and governments. It is so vital for the TRC to shed light on these abuses and acknowledge these victims. It is up to the TRC to hear the victims and provide resources to aid in their reconciliation. It is also important to note how beneficial this is for Canada because it was an opportunity for all Canadians, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal to learn more about and hear witness to the history of the residential school system. The goals that the TRC sought to accomplish were to acknowledge Residential School experiences although traumatic, the impacts and the consequences. Also, its goal was to raise awareness and promote public education of Canadians about the Indian Residential School system and its impacts. Most importantly, identifying the legacy of the Indian Residential School system, but also commemorating former students and their families. Although they may open old wounds, it is still so important to support, promote, and facilitate TRC events on a national scale as well as for a community.

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