In an emotion-filled ceremony at Rideau Hall on Oct. 15, Jean expressed her commitment “to act as witness” to the journey. “The time has come to speak up. The time has come for us to work together to listen and shine a light on the gaps in this memory, difficult though it may be. Now is the time for us to travel the road of truth and reconciliation together,” Jean told TRC commissioners, former students and their families, aboriginal leaders, as well as church and government representatives attending the ceremony.
“To those of you who say, ‘That’s in the past, why don’t they just get over it?’ I would say, We and you are not out of the past yet,” said Justice Murray Sinclair, TRC chair, whose own father attended a residential school. “Our families were broken apart and must be rebuilt. Our relationships have been damaged and must be restored. Our spirits have been stolen and must be returned. Our love of life was turned into fear and we must work together to learn to trust once again.”
Sinclair announced that the TRC has received permission to hold seven national events to hear stories about the residential schools experience over the full five years rather than the initially agreed two years.
The first event will be held next spring in Winnipeg; other events will take place in Alberta, British Columbia, the Maritimes, Quebec, Northern Canada, and Saskatchewan.
From the mid-19th to the 20th century, churches-including the Anglican Church of Canada-operated 130 schools for more than 150,000 native, Métis and Inuit children. These schools were part of the government’s policy of forced assimilation.
Many students sued the government and churches, citing loss of language and culture as well as physical and sexual abuse. In 2006, a settlement agreement involving former students, churches and government was signed, and the TRC was created.