Interim Report (TRC Canada)/Commission Activities
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement sets out an extensive mandate for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It ranges from research and report writing, holding national and community events, collecting statements from Canadians about their residential schools experience, and collecting documents from the parties to the Settlement Agreement, to educating the public through commemorative events. The work of the Commission to date is summarized best under the following headings:
- Statement Gathering
- Document Collection
- Research and Report Preparation
- A National Research Centre
- National Events
- Community Events
Statement Gathering: Truth Sharing
Until now, the voices of those who were directly involved in the day-to-day life of the schools, particularly the former students, largely have been missing from the historical record. The Commission is committed to providing every former residential student—and every person whose life was affected by the residential school system—with the opportunity to create a record of that experience.
The work of other truth and reconciliation commissions has confirmed the particular importance of the statement-giving process as a means to restore dignity and identity to those who have suffered grievous harms. Statement gathering is a central element in the Commission mandate, and statement giving is voluntary. Since there are estimated to be at least 80,000 living former students, the magnitude and complexity of the Commission's commitment are significant. The statements gathered will be used by the Commission in the preparation of its report, and eventually will be housed in the National Research Centre (NRC, to be established by the Commission, and discussed in a following section).
Statement gathering has occurred at National Events, community events, and at events coordinated by the Commission's regional liaisons. Trained statement gatherers now are present in most regions across the country, with more resources being added continually.
Statement gathering involves recording the biographies of those providing statements to the Commission. Statement providers are encouraged to talk about any and all aspects of their lives they feel are important, including times before, during, and after attending a residential school. The family members of survivors, former staff, and others affected by the residential schools also are encouraged to share their experiences.
The Commission recognizes that providing a statement to the Commission is often very emotional and extremely difficult for individuals. For this reason, statement providers are given the option of having a health support worker, a cultural support worker, or a professional therapist attend their session. These health supports ensure statement providers are able to talk to someone who can assist them if necessary before and after providing a statement.
Individuals are given the option of having an audio or video recording made of their experiences. If they wish, they are given a copy of their statement immediately at the end of the interview. They may choose to provide their statement in writing or over the phone if proper health supports are in place.
Privacy considerations surrounding statement gathering are extremely important to the Commission. All persons who make statements to the Commission do so voluntarily.
The Commission provides opportunities to give statements in a number of different ways. These include:
- at public Sharing Circles at national and community events
- at Commission hearings at scheduled locations across the country, including National Events
- at private statement-gathering sessions where only a trained statement gatherer and health worker are present.
At Sharing Circles and Commission hearings, statements are made in a public setting. People who make their statement in a private setting can choose from two levels of privacy protection. The first option ensures full privacy according to the standards of the federal Privacy Act. The second option allows the statement provider to waive certain rights to privacy in the interests of having their experiences known to, and shared with, the greater public.
People who waive those rights are giving consent to the Commission and to the National Research Centre to use their statement for public education purposes or to disclose their statement to third parties for public education purposes in a respectful and dignified manner (such as for third-party documentary films). The Commission and National Research Centre have the authority to decide whether to provide such access.
These options are explained carefully to the statement provider before a private statement-gathering session. To date, over half the statement providers have chosen to have their statements recorded for public education purposes.
The Commission also ensures that all digital information is transmitted and protected carefully during trips in and out of the field.
The Commission has made it a high priority to gather statements from the elderly or ill, as well as from particularly vulnerable and marginalized former students who are at risk. It has undertaken a number of innovative measures, including a day-long event facilitated by Métis Calgary Family Services at the downtown branch of the Calgary Public Library that focused on collecting statements from homeless individuals. Projects designed to reach those survivors in jails also are underway.
By the end of June 2011, the Commission had collected 1157 individual statements. An additional 649 statements had been given in Sharing Circles and at public hearings. One hundred and fifteen material and artistic submissions had been received. The Commission now has in place both the mechanisms and process to ensure it is able to meet its statement-gathering goals. Regional liaisons play a role in coordinating and organizing a series of specific and targeted visits to communities across the country. Future Commission National Events and the community hearings held in conjunction with those events will continue to play a significant role in statement gathering. Private statement-gathering options and Sharing Circles will be extended to communities and individuals in ever-increasing numbers in the coming year, with advance notice circulated to communities well before the planned visits.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement commits the parties to the Agreement to providing the Commission with all relevant documents in their possession or control. This is to be done subject to the legislated privacy interests of an individual, and in compliance with privacy and access-to-information legislation. Exceptions are to be made in cases where solicitor-client privilege applies.
In keeping with that Agreement, documents from the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) established by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, existing resolved litigation, and federal government dispute-resolution processes (all processes dealing with claims of abuse at the schools) are being sought by the Commission, to become part of the documents collected.
In February 2011, the Commission retained a consulting firm to assist in collecting all relevant documents from church and government holdings. The Commission is in the process of developing a fully functional and secure database, a team of historical researchers to review and audit the holdings of the various parties to the Settlement Agreement, and the technical resources to digitize the entire collection.
Each of the three main activities in document collection—developing the database, the digitization, and research—are extremely complex projects. The database will provide the Commission with state-of-the-art backup and secure storage, while delivering sophisticated search-and-report functions, and multi-media capacity. Researchers will identify, review, provide meta-data tagging, and report on all relevant documents. Digitization will involve the electronic conversion of material that currently exists in a host of formats, including photographs, glass-plate negatives, film, video, onionskin paper, cut-sheet paper, and microfilm.
This effort will involve the records of at least eighty-eight church archives and as many as thirty or more government institutions. In addition, the creation of a full record also would require the collection of relevant records held by organizations and individuals other than Canada and the churches, such as museums, provincial and university archives, and cultural and Aboriginal research centres.
TRC in the Community
From 2009–2011, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada took part in more than 400 outreach and statement gathering initiatives. This map illustrates the communities that were visited during that time period.
The document-collection process has been placed at risk by two factors: the lack of federal government and church cooperation, and cost-related issues.
Lack of Cooperation
The federal government has been aware of its need to provide all relevant documents since the signing of the 2005 agreement-in-principle that preceded the final Settlement Agreement. Despite this, the federal government
- has provided the Commission with only a very limited portion of the relevant documents in its possession.
- has taken the position that it has no obligation to identify and provide relevant historical documents held by Library and Archives Canada to the Commission. Under this approach, departments would have to search and produce records only from active and recent files. This is inappropriate in dealing with matters dating back over a century.
- has informed the Commission that, despite the Commission's request, it has not agreed to provide the Commission with the Settlement Agreement and Dispute Resolution (SADRE) database, which contains all the residential school research files of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
- has yet to provide the Commission with appropriate levels of access to federal archives—an issue that compromises both document collection and report preparation.
In addition, the federal government has taken the position that it cannot disclose records in its possession if those records were provided to it by the churches in response to specific residential schools court cases. It maintains this position even for records created by the federal government but that contain information first obtained from church records. The federal government asserts that since it obtained the church records and information through the litigation process, it is subject to an implied undertaking to use or disclose those records only in relation to the specific court decisions to which the records relate. The federal government asserts that the fact that the government and the churches settled such court cases through the Settlement Agreement, which includes an express obligation that Canada and the churches would disclose all relevant records in their possession, does not constitute a waiver of those implied undertakings. In the case of a conflict between the implied undertakings and the express obligation in the Settlement Agreement to produce all records in its possession to the Commission, the government maintains it must give preference to the implied undertakings. The Commission finds this position unacceptable.
In addition, while the Commission has received helpful cooperation from most of the churches and archivists it has dealt with, individual church archivists have sought to impose conditions before they will produce records to the Commission. Such conditions include:
- instructions as to how the Commission should caption photographs in its reports
- limitations on the Commission's use of photographs to a "one-time only" use
- distinctions between their "internal" and "external" and "restricted" and "unrestricted" records
- restrictions as to how the Commission can use records in different categories.
Some archivists insist that the Commission acknowledge that the churches own copyright in the records located in their archives. With respect to such claims, the churches make no copyright distinctions based on who created the records or when, and do not explain what copyright interests they are seeking to protect.
All these issues have caused and continue to cause considerable delay for the Commission in its attempt to meet its mandated obligation and enforce compliance of the parties' obligations to produce relevant records. It is unlikely that the document-collection process will be completed without a significant shift in attitude on the part of Canada and those parties who have been reluctant to cooperate.
The Settlement Agreement states that Canada and the churches must compile and produce all relevant documents and must bear the cost of producing those documents. Where only original documents are involved, the parties, once they have compiled and produced the documents, may request that the Commission pay the costs of making reproductions of the originals. To date, no such requests have been made.
In terms of the number of documents to be collected, the Government of Canada estimates that it has between five- and fifty-million relevant files in its active and semi-active collections. Beyond this, it may be necessary to review over 100,000 boxes of records held by Library and Archives Canada, including 40,000 boxes of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada records. In addition, there are at least 88 church archives from which the Commission must receive records.
Aside from providing Commission researchers general access to the federal archives, Canada has not provided any proposal or signalled any intention of fulfilling its obligation to identify, organize and produce the Library and Archives Canada documents. Based on current project estimates, it is apparent that the costs of document collection would far exceed the Commission's $60-million budget if the Commission were to assume Canada's document compilation obligations in respect of federal archives. This clearly was not contemplated by the parties, given the funding and timing limitations set out in the Settlement Agreement.
These issues have placed the Commission's ability to fulfill its mandate in jeopardy. They also threaten to undermine the National Research Centre that the parties have called on the Commission to establish. Having tried unsuccessfully to informally resolve these issues, the Commission has determined that it must seek judicial guidance. The Commission will be referring these matters to the supervising court for advice and guidance on how best to ensure timely compliance by all par ties with their document production obligations.
- The Commission recommends that the Government of Canada and the churches produce all their relevant records to the Commission as quickly as possible.
- The Commission recommends that Canada and the churches make a dramatic change in the way they address the funding and timeliness of document production and digitization.
- The Commission recommends that all agencies and organizations that are not parties to the Settlement Agreement, but have holdings relevant to the history and legacy of residential schools (such as provincial and university archives, libraries, museums, galleries, and Aboriginal organizations), contact the Commission and assist the Commission in receiving copies of all such relevant documents.
Research and Report Preparation
The Commission is undertaking research into both the history and legacy of the residential school system, and the concepts and practices of reconciliation as they relate to the Commission's mandate. In December 2009, the Commission hosted a gathering of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal scholars and practitioners with research expertise in various areas of relevance to the Commission's work. They provided advice on the development of the research agenda. The Commission has conducted research to produce a number of public education tools, including a brochure on the history of residential schools, a short history of the system and its legacy, slide shows focusing on schools in regions where National Events have taken place, posters that highlight the history of individual schools and key themes in the history of the system, and national and regional maps identifying the location of residential schools. Several internal research projects required for the Commission's final report are now underway, including one dealing with the experience of residential school staff. In August 2010, the Commission also invited external researchers to submit proposals for work in a number of key areas.
Missing Children and Unmarked Graves
In 2007 the Commission, at the request of Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Jim Prentice, undertook the Missing Children and Unmarked Graves Project. Large numbers of the Aboriginal children who were sent to residential schools never returned to their home communities because they ran away or died, or their fate is unaccounted for other wise. Often, their parents and families never were informed of their disappearance or death. These students have come to be referred to as the Missing Children. Their fate is the focus of a series of research projects being conducted by a team of Commission researchers. Additional funding to carry out this work has not been provided to the Commission.
Working with the signatories to the Settlement Agreement, the federal government, the churches, and Aboriginal organizations, the Missing Children research projects will produce as complete a list as possible of children who died at the schools and the cause of their deaths. It will document the fate of those children who never returned to their home communities, and locate school burial sites and cemeteries where it is likely that many of these children are buried.
A research strategy and plans for a series of projects have been developed, and the Commission has begun to implement this strategy. The research team is mindful that this research must be carried out in a way that is respectful of cultural and traditional practices in each part of the country.
A National Research Centre: Establishing a National Memory
The Commission is mandated to establish a National Research Centre that is accessible to former students, their families and communities, the general public, researchers, and educators.
To assist the Commission in developing plans for the National Research Centre, the Commission hosted an inter national forum in March 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The forum brought together representatives of truth and memory projects from sixteen countries, former students, academics, archivists, representatives of international, federal, and provincial governments, members of the media, and Commission staff. The participants discussed the benefits and drawbacks associated with approaches for the development of a centre that will both house and make accessible the permanent record of the residential school system in Canada.
In November 2011, the Commission issued a Call for Proposals from organizations and agencies interested in working with the Commission to establish the National Research Centre.
Commemoration: Creating a Lasting Legacy
Under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the federal government is committed to funding commemoration initiatives that address the residential school experience. Former students, their families, communities, and groups of former students are eligible to submit proposals for regional or national commemoration projects to the Commission.
The Commission's ten-member Indian Residential School Survivor Committee reviews the proposals and makes recommendations on funding. The Commission then forwards the recommended proposals to the federal government, which administers the $20-million commemoration fund.
The first of two calls for proposals was issued in 2011. It provided for the allocation of $10-million.
The first call for proposals set broad categories that would allow individuals and communities to explore a wide range of commemoration initiatives, each intended to honour, validate, heal, or memorialize the residential school experience.
A funding limit of $50,000 was established for individual community commemoration projects. If communities collaborate on a single project, the amount of funding can increase by $50,000 per community to a maximum of $500,000. The limit for any individual national commemoration project was set at $2-million.
Over 200 proposals were received in response to the first call for proposals. The recommendations have been reviewed by the Indian Residential School Survivor Committee and forwarded to the federal government.
The Commission believes there should be formal residential school commemorations in every province and territory in Canada. It encourages all governments, educational institutions, and churches to ask themselves what they will do to commemorate the residential schools system.
- The Commission recommends that governments, educational institutions, and churches consult, design, announce, and publicly unveil residential school commemorations before the completion of the Commission's mandate.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement requires the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hold seven National Events within the first two years of the launch of the Commission, and a closing ceremony at the end of the Commission's mandate. However, the Commission, in consultation with the parties to the Settlement Agreement, has determined to hold the events over its full five-year mandate. The first National Event was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in June 2010; the second in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, in June and July 2011; the third in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in October 2011. Subsequent National Events are planned for Saskatchewan, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia, with the Commission's closing ceremony taking place in Ontario.
The National Events provide the Commission with its greatest opportunities to reach out and connect with Canadians of all cultures and backgrounds. Intended to focus national attention on the residential school issue, they stimulate public engagement and education. Former students, families, and communities have been able to share their experiences in a context that allows for serious examination of the issues associated with residential schools. Simultaneously, the events have been defined by public acknowledgements of the schools' legacy and history, and by celebrations and appreciation of Aboriginal culture.
The Winnipeg National Event, June 16–19, 2010
The Winnipeg National Event, whose theme was It's About Respect—A Journey of Survival, Strength and Resilience, commenced with a sunrise ceremony on June 16, 2010, at the Forks National Historic Site. Located where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet, the Forks has a long history as a gathering site. Much of the event was staged in tents during a very rainy week. Despite this, an average of more than 10,000 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people per day came together in the spirit of understanding and respect, to learn about residential schools and honour the experiences of survivors. For many, the event was their first exposure to the residential school story. For many survivors, it was their first opportunity to speak publicly about their experiences.
Many former students came to the Winnipeg event so they could provide a statement about their residential school experience. In the weeks leading up to the event, the Commission coordinated a significant volunteer effort that brought former students to Winnipeg and housed them at a variety of residences. The people who walked the 1200 kilometres from Cochrane, Ontario, to Winnipeg epitomized the determination of the former students and their families. In addition, over 400 volunteers contributed their time and energy to ensure the event's success.
Sharing Circles throughout the Winnipeg event provided participants with an opportunity to enter their experience into the public record, and to share it with others. Private statement-gathering opportunities were offered as well.
Representatives of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, and Presbyterian churches held a luncheon for former students immediately after the official opening. At the close of each day, a Gestures of Reconciliation event was held at a large gathering tent.
One of the key public education activities was "Prairie Perspectives on Indian Residential Schools," a one-day conference sponsored by the University of Manitoba Centre for Human Rights Research Planning Initiative. It brought together prairie-based researchers, politicians, academics, and researchers who made presentations on the schools and their legacy. An evening panel discussion explored the international impact of truth and reconciliation commissions.
In a more informal way, learning took place in a series of tents where various aspects of the residential school experience were explored.
- The Learning Tent presented Commission-produced educational materials. Church and government archivists made photographs of Manitoba and northwestern Ontario residential schools available to former students.
- In the Interfaith Tent church representatives and Aboriginal people discussed reconciliation efforts in their communities.
- The Athletes Tent highlighted Aboriginal contributions to amateur and professional sport.
- The Inuit Tent showcased Inuit art and entertainment, and depicted the residential school experience from the Inuit perspective.
- The Métis Tent reflected the experience of residential schools in cultural activities such as music, dance, photographs, documents, and video.
- The Legacy of Hope's photo exhibit Where are the children depicted the national residential school experience. (The Legacy of Hope is a national Aboriginal charitable organization dedicated to raising awareness and understanding of the legacy of residential schools.)
Two outdoor concerts featured a wide range of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal musicians. Performers included Buffy Sainte-Marie, Susan Aglukark, Inez, and Blue Rodeo. Other cultural events included:
- a film festival featuring films such as Older than America, a film about the residential school experience by Georgina Lightning, recipient of the 2010 White House Project Epic Award for Emerging Artist
- an exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery of We Are Sorry, a work by Cathy Busby that contrasts the formal apologies issued to Aboriginal peoples by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
- the world première of the play Fabric of the Sky by Ian Ross
- an evening of readings by Aboriginal writers Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, Rosanna Deerchild, Joseph Boyden, Basil Johnston, and Richard Van Camp.
On the final day, Governor General Michaëlle Jean presided over a special Youth Forum, where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth shared their perspectives on their understanding of residential schools. She enjoined the young people present "to confront history together." The event concluded with a vibrant pow-wow and closing ceremonies witnessed by hundreds of people.
The Northern National Event, Inuvik, Northwest Territories, June 28–July 1, 2011
The theme of the Northern National Event was It's about Courage—A National Journey Home. The event was held in Inuvik from June 28 to July 1, 2011, in the Northwest Territories. Located in the Beaufort Sea, Mackenzie Delta, Inuvik is a cultural crossroads, with overlapping homelands of the Inuvialuit (Inuit) and Gwichin (Dene), as well as significant Métis and non-Aboriginal populations throughout the Mackenzie Valley to the south, and the Yukon to the southwest.
The event attracted over 2500 people in a community that normally has a population of approximately 3500. In addition, viewers from across Canada and ten countries observed the proceedings via live webcast.
Former residential school students make up a large percentage of the population of northern Quebec (Nunavik), the Yukon, and the Northwest and Nunavut territories. In fact, Canada's North has the highest ratio of residential school survivors per capita. Until the mid-1990s, Aboriginal children across the North still were being taken from their homes and sent to residential schools away from their families.
Due to the vast geography of the North, and to reach as many survivors as possible, the Commission introduced pre-event hearings. Leading up to the Inuvik event, the Commission held hearings in eighteen communities throughout the Territories and northern Quebec (Nunavik) from March to May 2011. The Northern Hearings were an opportunity for residential school survivors, who otherwise might not be able to attend the Northern National Event, to inform the Commission and Canadians of the unique experiences of children who attended the schools in Canada's North. Through extensive daily media coverage, the hearings helped inform the public about the Commission's work and statement-gathering process, and provided survivors with time to reflect and share their experiences in leading up to the Northern National Event.
During the community hearings, more than 550 survivors in the North shared their personal experiences with the Commission, and inspired the Northern National Event theme. Prior to each future National Event, the Commission will be holding community hearings in the region in which the event is being held.
The Northern National Event was the largest event of its kind ever held in Inuvik. Organizing it was no small undertaking.
- One thousand survivors travelled to Inuvik by car, bus, boat, and plane.
- Hotels and nearby camps were filled to capacity, while 100 families opened their homes to welcome participants.
- Simultaneous translation was provided in Chipewyan, Dogrib, Gwich'in, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey, and French.
- The Department of National Defence flew 30,000 kilograms of technical equipment and essential services from Edmonton to Inuvik in a Hercules aircraft.
The Northern National Event began with the lighting of the Sacred Fire and the Qulliq, the traditional Inuit oil lamp. The opening ceremony included drumming, prayers, speeches by the representatives of the parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, and the transferring of the ashes from the Sacred Fire from the first National Event held in Winnipeg.
Following the opening ceremonies, six individuals from four continents were inducted as official Honourary Witnesses for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They observed the proceedings and accepted the responsibility of sharing what they have learned with peoples around the world. They also worked with local youth to bear witness to each day's activities.
During the event, survivors expressed themselves through Commissioners' Sharing Panels, Sharing Circles, and private statement gathering. There were approximately 120 trained health support workers on the ground, many of whom were Aboriginal and former students themselves. They worked tirelessly to provide support to those who needed it.
A Dialogue on Resilience was facilitated with a group of survivors who have exemplified courage and strength throughout their lives, resulting in public achievements. It was an inspirational event, and provided insight into the critical factors that led to these successes.
A particularly touching event was the birthday party for the former students that was held to mark all the birthdays that went uncelebrated at residential school.
The parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement took part in the Circle of Reconciliation. These elected leaders and senior officials, including the premier of the Northwest Territories, himself a former residential school student, spoke of forging new relationships between Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.
The program also provided opportunities for learning about the residential school experience.
- Expressions of Reconciliation—opportunities for individual organizations and representatives of the parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to make statements, presentations, or apologies directly to survivors.
- The Learning Place—through speakers, posters, photographs, and videos, the history of residential schools in Canada was explored, with a particular focus on the northern schools that were included in the Settlement Agreement.
- The Churches' Listening Area—survivors were provided with an opportunity to share their experience in one-to-one meetings with church representatives.
- Interactive Traditional Sports History and Demonstrations with Elders—dialogue on traditional sports history and its cultural importance.
- Children and Youth Programming—cultural activities, sports, education, and artistic expression were highlighted.
- Special Film Screenings—screenings of My Own Private Lower Post and The Experimental Eskimos, two films about the residential experience impacts on northern Aboriginal people.
- Daily Call to Gather—hosted by a master of ceremonies, a video summary of the day's activities, which included the sharing of experiences by the Honourary Witnesses for that day.
Evening activities were intended to showcase Aboriginal cultures. These included:
- A special, historical, concert performance—acknowledging the history of northern people and residential schools, as told by northern singers, writers, drummers, and other artists. All the performers had been affected directly by the residential school experience.
- A fashion show with designers from across the Arctic, featuring traditional styles, motifs, and materials.
- A talent show that brought drums, harmonicas, fiddles, songs, and voices to the stage for an evening of laughter, sharing, and inspiration.
During the closing ceremonies, the mayor of Inuvik, Denny Rodgers, announced the town would commemorate the Northern National Event by preserving the Sacred Fire site as a permanent memorial. The Survivor Committee gathered ashes from the Sacred Fire, to be carried on to the Atlantic National Event in Halifax, in October 2011.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement also mandates organizing and supporting community events. These events are to be designed by communities, and respond to the needs of the former students, their families, and those affected by the schools. In many cases, representatives of the churches that were involved in running the schools have participated in these events.
These events can provide people with an opportunity to share their residential school experience with the Commissioners and/or a statement gatherer. Communities also have a chance to offer gestures of reconciliation that are representative of the community, and to showcase the ways in which they have begun the work of reconciliation. To help communities prepare such events, the Commission has developed a Community Events Guide.