By ONUR BAKINER
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada published an interim report and a historical document on February 24, 2012. Pursuant to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (2007), the Commission was established to ‘identify sources and create as complete an historical record as possible of the [residential school] system and legacy,’ create public awareness around the subject, and promote truth and reconciliation events at the national and community levels (the Commission mandate can be found here).
Watch the media conference on February 24, 2012:
At least 150 residential schools and residences operated in Canada from the late 19th century onwards, the last ones closed in the 1990s. The schools, federally supported and often run by a mixture of religious and secular personnel, separated indigenous children from their parents and communities at an early age in order to ‘civilize’ and Christianise them (They Came for the Children, 1-2). The historical document states that in addition to pursuing the inherently racist and exclusionary objective of severing children’s ties with indigenous community and culture, the schools ‘were central to the colonization of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada’ (2) in the context of massive land expropriation. Chronically underfunded and understaffed, the schools failed their primary goal of education, and left the students vulnerable to contagious diseases. The absence of accountability mechanisms contributed to a climate in which the children suffered various forms of physical and mental abuse.
The Settlement Agreement and the accompanying Truth and Reconciliation Commission have come as the culmination of a long history of activism on the part of indigenous groups and human rights organisations in Canada. Several churches have apologised for their involvement in the residential school system, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology on June 11, 2008.
Watch Harper’s 2008 apology: