Long Search for Truth

The Expositor
October 22, 2008

The quest for healing for survivors of native residential schools took a step backward Monday. Harry LaForme, a respected member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit and the first native judge to serve on the Ontario Court of Appeal, resigned as chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In a letter to Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, LaForme said the commission was doomed to fail because his two commissioners would not accept his authority.

LaForme's resignation was bad news for the 80,000 survivors of residential schools who have waited decades for their stories to be told. The commission's work will be delayed for weeks while a replacement is sought.

The commission was established as part of a $1.9 billion class-action settlement for natives who attended 132 church-run schools, including the Mohawk Institute in Brantford.

The schools operated for 100 years. Students were not permitted to speak native languages. Many suffered physical and sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, LaForme lasted less than six months as chair. He was appointed in April to head the $50-million project which was to report its historical findings by June 2010.

The commission was modelled on South Africa's truth and reconciliation commission. Its goal was not to assign blame but to draw out the truth. The first interviews with survivors were expected to start soon.

The delay in getting down to work is a shame. The average age of residential school survivors is 65.

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to victims of residential schools. But that was just an early milestone on a long road to healing.

Everyone associated with residential schools wants a commission that will work fairly and independently. Its task, after all, is to write the history of a shameful era.

LaForme must have good reasons for stepping down. Strahl must act quickly to get the commission's important work underway.


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