Representatives of national churches (including the Anglican Church of Canada), aboriginal groups, and the federal government gathered at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., July 16, for a welcoming ceremony for the new commissioners of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC, along with Commissioners Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild, were covered with protective aboriginal blankets as they prepared for the consecration ceremony that included prayers, reflections, and smoking of the aboriginal ceremonial pipe.
The new commissioners, whose appointments were announced by the federal government on June 10, are taking over the work that has been seriously delayed following the resignations of the previous commissioners. The previous chair, Justice Harry LaForme, had resigned as TRC chair last October after complaining that the two other commissioners – Jane Brewin Morley and Claudette Dumont-Smith – did not accept his authority. Ms. Morley and Ms. Dumont-Smith offered their own resignations in January to give the TRC a clean slate.
The TRC is part of a revised and court-approved Indian residential schools agreement that was negotiated in 2006 between former students, churches (including the Anglican church), the federal government, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations. It aims to provide former students and their families with a chance to share their experiences in a culturally-appropriate setting, and to set the historical record straight about the 150-year legacy of forced assimilation through the Indian residential schools.
Archbishop Terence Finlay, the Anglican Church of Canada’s special envoy on residential schools, attended the ceremony and described it as “a very holy moment.” Interviewed by Art Babych, editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the diocese of Ottawa, Archbishop Finlay added, “They (commissioners) were at the beginning of a sacred journey in which they were going to attempt to hear all of the stories, both from survivors and also from people who loved the children, and that they were going to work very, very hard over the next five years to enable people to speak their story and if they couldn’t speak, they would speak it for them.” Other attendees included aboriginal elders and Assembly of First Nations chief Phil Fontaine.