The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is urging former staff members of Indian residential schools to share their memories, saying that they can help the TRC prepare “a more comprehensive” history of the legacy of the residential school system.
The TRC is also hoping that the sharing of stories will become an opportunity for healing and reconciliation.
Justice Murray Sinclair, TRC chair, has sought the help of the Anglican Church of Canada in identifying former staff members who may wish to speak with the TRC.
The primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, plans to send out a letter to surviving residential school employees encouraging them to share their stories with the TRC.
The Anglican General Synod Archives has identified about 2,000 people who worked in about three dozen residential schools and hostels administered by the church on behalf of the federal government between 1820 and 1969. The schools were mostly in the northern regions of central and western Canada. The Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United churches also administered residential schools.
The number of former staff is “rapidly declining,” said Justice Sinclair in a letter sent to the Anglican church. “To ensure their voices are heard, we must work quickly to reach out to those who are still with us. We must let them know that the TRC is interested in what they have to say and that their memories will be respected.”
Residential school staff can “provide us with a unique insight into the operation of the schools, the relationship between students and staff, and the day- to-day challenges of working in difficult circumstances,” said Sinclair.
Former teachers and support workers who have given statements to the TRC have all “expressed compassion for the students in their care, concern for the legacy left behind and a willingness to share their truths in order to reconcile with this troubled past,” he added.
In the late 1980s, many former students came forward with stories detailing physical and sexual abuse, cultural repression and enforced loss of language. Some eventually filed lawsuits against the federal government and the churches.
In 1993, Archbishop Michael Peers, then the Anglican church’s primate, apologized for the church’s involvement in the schools and for the harm it had done to aboriginal people.
Since then, the Anglican church has sought to address the residential schools legacy in various ways, including support for indigenous ministries, the establishment of a healing fund in 1991, and signing both the initial Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2003 and the revised agreement in 2007.
Former staff members willing to tell their stories will be interviewed by a statement gatherer from the TRC. “Interviews will take place in a safe, supportive environment in a location that is convenient for the participant and in the language of their choice,” said Justice Sinclair. “Health supports will be provided if requested. Friends and family are welcome to provide support.”
The interview can be captured either on film or in audio format, and personal information will be protected unless the interviewee chooses to waive that right, he added. “Above all else, the TRC will ensure that all participants will be treated equally; their opinions and memories will be respected.”
Interviews gathered will be given to the National Research Centre on Residential Schools to be established after the TRC’s mandate ends in 2013.
Established as part of the revised agreement, the TRC has a five-year mandate to hear stories of former students and their families and to document the legacy of the schools system.
Former school staff members wishing to get in touch with the TRC may contact Nancy Hurn, General Synod archivist, via email at [email protected],s or by phone (416) 924-9199 ext. 279.