Interim Report (TRC Canada)/Conclusions
There can be no movement toward reconciliation without an understanding of the rationale, operation, and overall impact of the schools. Through its work, the Commission has reached certain conclusions about the residential school system. The truth about the residential school system will cause many Canadians to see their country differently. These are hard truths, but only by coming to grips with these truths can we lay the foundation for reconciliation.
The Commission has concluded that:
- Residential schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal children.
- Residential schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal families.
- Residential schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal culture.
- Residential schools constituted an assault on self-governing and self-sustaining Aboriginal nations.
- The impacts of the residential school system were immediate, and have been ongoing since the earliest years of the schools.
- Canadians have been denied a full and proper education as to the nature of Aboriginal societies, and the history of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
1) Residential schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal children.
- The residential school system separated children from their parents without providing them with adequate physical or emotional care or supervision.
- Due to this lack of care and supervision, the schools often were sites of institutionalized child neglect, excessive physical punishment, and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
- Persistent underfunding left the schools dependent on student labour.
- Several generations of children were traumatized by their residential school experience: by having been abused, by having witnessed abuse, or by having been coerced to participate in abuse.
- All these factors contributed to high mortality rates, poor health, and low academic achievement.
2) Residential schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal families.
- The residential school system was established with the specific intent of preventing parents from exercising influence over the educational, spiritual, and cultural development of their children.
- The schools not only separated children from their parents and grandparents, but because of the strict separation of girls from boys, they also separated sisters from brothers. Older siblings were also separated from younger siblings.
- As each succeeding generation passed through the system, the family bond weakened, and, eventually, the strength and structure of Aboriginal family bonds were virtually destroyed.
- Given the high mortality rates that prevailed for much of the system's history, many parents spent their lives grieving, never having been given a proper description of how their child died or where they were buried, and not being able to hold an appropriate ceremony of mourning.
3) Residential schools constituted an assault on Aboriginal culture.
- The residential school system was intended to "civilize" and "Christianize" Aboriginal children, replacing Aboriginal cultural values with Euro-Canadian values.
- The residential school system belittled and repressed Aboriginal cultures and languages. By making students feel ashamed of who they were, the system undermined their sense of pride and self-worth. This deprived them of the cultural and economic advantages and benefits that come from knowing two languages.
4) Residential schools constituted an assault on self-governing and self-sustaining Aboriginal nations.
- The residential school system was intended to assimilate Aboriginal children into broader Canadian society. With assimilation would come the breaking up of the reserves and the end of treaty obligations. In this way the schools were part of a broader Canadian policy to undermine Aboriginal leaders and Aboriginal self-government.
5) The impacts of the residential school system were immediate, and have been ongoing since the earliest years of the schools.
- The damage extended far beyond the numbers of children who attended these schools: families, communities, and cultures all suffered. Students were estranged from their families and communities; cultural, spiritual, and language transmission was disrupted; education did not prepare children for traditional lifestyles or emerging economic opportunities (which often were limited); parenting skills were lost; and patterns of abuse were developed that continue to have an impact on communities today.
- The schools' legacy shaped people's whole life experience, including their employment and their interactions with social service agencies, the legal system, and the health care system. The system's impact does not stop with the survivors; it affects their interactions with their children and grandchildren—the intergenerational survivors. The impact of the schools is felt in every Aboriginal community in the country.
6) Canadians have been denied a full and proper education as to the nature of Aboriginal societies, and the history of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
- Canadians generally have been led to believe—by what has been taught and not taught in schools—that Aboriginal people were and are uncivilized, primitive, and inferior, and continue to need to be civilized. Canadians have been denied a full and proper education as to the nature of Aboriginal societies. They have not been well informed about the nature of the relationship that was established initially between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples and the way that relationship has been shaped over time by colonialism and racism. This lack of education and misinformation has led to misunderstanding and, in some cases, hostility between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians on matters of importance.
It will take time and commitment to reverse this legacy. The schools operated in Canada for well over a century. In the same way, the reconciliation process will have to span generations. It will take time to re-establish respect. Effective reconciliation will see Aboriginal people regaining their sense of self-respect, and the development of relations of mutual respect between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. In future reports, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be making specific recommendations as to how reconciliation can be furthered.
There are three points we would like to leave with all readers.
The first is that this story has heroes. The work of truth telling, healing, and reconciliation was commenced well over two decades ago by the people who, as children, had been victimized by this system. They continue to do the heavy labour of sharing their stories, and, by so doing, educating their children, their communities, and their country.
The second is obvious: a commission such as this cannot itself achieve reconciliation. Reconciliation implies relationship. The residential schools badly damaged relationships within Aboriginal families and communities, between Aboriginal peoples and churches, between Aboriginal peoples and the government, and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples within Canadian society. The Commissioners believe these relationships can and must be repaired. The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is a positive step in this process since it formally recognized the need to come to terms with the past. The process of reconciliation will require the passionate commitment of individuals and the genuine engagement of society. There are people today who are living with the direct impacts of the schools: the survivors and their families. Specific attention will have to be paid to their needs. The conflicts that have arisen within communities as a result of the school system must be recognized and addressed. Churches have to define their role in this process as Aboriginal people reclaim what is of value to them.
Reconciliation also will require changes in the relationship between Aboriginal people and the government of Canada. The federal government, along with the provincial governments, historically has taken a social welfare approach to its dealings with Aboriginal people. This approach fails to recognize the unique legal status of Aboriginal peoples as the original peoples of this country. Without that recognition, we run the risk of continuing the assimilationist policies and the social harms that were integral to the residential schools.
Finally, there is no reason for anyone who wants to contribute to the reconciliation process to wait until the publication of the Commission's final reports. There is an opportunity now for Canadians to engage in this work, to make their own contributions to reconciliation, and to create new truths about our country. As Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine observed when he accepted Canada's apology in June 2008, "Together we can achieve the greatness our country deserves." Our challenge and opportunity will be to work together to achieve that greatness.