Education Key to Redemption of Residential School Legacy: Commission Chair

Winnipeg Free Press
February 24, 2012

Commissioners Chief Wilton Littlechild, left to right, Justice Murray Sinclair and Marie Wilson listen to testimonials as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held hearings in Halifax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The education system was the vehicle for inflicting generations of abuse and pain on aboriginal people in Canada so it must also be the vehicle for redemption, says the head of the commission studying the legacy of the schools.

Justice Murray Sinclair, the commission's chairman, released the group's interim report, which among other things, recommends Canadian children begin to learn about the residential school tragedy as part of their schoolwork.

Sinclair said during the commission hearings, panel members were struck by the amount Canadians don't know about aboriginal people and the sorry legacy of residential schools.

"It has been through the use of an education system by the Canadian government that we have established and created the situation that exists within aboriginal communities and within aboriginal families in this country," Sinclair said at a news conference Friday.

"Also, it is through the educational system that non-aboriginal Canadians have been taught what they've come to learn about aboriginal people, or not learned about aboriginal people in this country.

"We believe it is through the educational system that that information can be corrected, that that lack of information can be filled."

Sinclair also called on the government to mount a public information campaign to educate Canadians.

The commission was set up to help First Nations heal from abuses in the residential school system, a system that was "an assault" on aboriginal children, their families and their culture, the interim report said.

The report said the schools "often were sites of institutionalized child neglect, excessive physical punishment, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse."

The commission found that several generations of children were "traumatized" by being abused, witnessing abuse or being "coerced to participate in abuse."

About 150,000 aboriginal children were forced to attend the schools, the first of which opened in the 1870s and the last of which closed in 1996.

The commission makes 20 recommendations in its interim report, including a call for all public schools to have residential school education material.

The report also asks the federal government to distribute a framed copy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's historic formal apology to residential school survivors.

It says the apology should be displayed prominently in every secondary school in the country and be delivered to every known residential school survivor.

Another recommendation calls for health and wellness centres to offer trauma and grief counselling for residential school survivors.

The report says residential schools damaged relations within aboriginal families and communities and with the rest of Canadian society at large.

The commissioners conclude their report by saying they believe "these relationships can and must be repaired" and will require changes in the relationship between Aboriginal people and the federal government.

The interim report comes as the commission reaches the halfway mark in its five-year mandate. The commissioners are set to deliver their full report when their mandate expires in 2014.

The commission has already taken 25,000 statements from survivors, visited about 500 communities and has heard from about 100 former school employees.

Earlier this month, Sinclair called the schools' effects acts of genocide.

In January, one survivor testified he kept his hair short so abusers found it harder to grab him and bang his head against a wall.








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