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Inuvik-At least 1,200 people-700 from out of town-have begun arriving in this Canadian community located north of the Arctic Circle. They are here for the second national event organized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) June 27 to July 1.
Many are former students of residential schools in the Northwest Territories who see this a chance to heal wounds by sharing their stories in the presence of church and government leaders,and former staff as well as ordinary Canadians.
About 180,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their home and brought to the residential schools operated by churches across Canada from the late 19th century to 1996. The federal government established 14 residential schools in the Northwest Territories, 11 of which were run by the Anglican Church of Canada, and the rest, by the Roman Catholic Church. The Northwest Territories has the highest ratio of residential school students per capita.
Residents of Inuvik, which has a population of 3,000, have spent weeks feverishly preparing for this event, the second of seven national gatherings to be hosted by the TRC as part of its five-year mandate. The local population of Inuvialuit, Gwich’in and Ingamo have been encouraged to billet out-of-towners in their homes, to offer hospitality and to participate as volunteers and vendors.
Parishioners of the Anglican Church of the Ascension are offering their own brand of hospitality-opening their church to participants in need to respite and offering them baked goods, coffee, and counseling, should they need it.
“We imagine that people will be exhausted. We have three rooms where they can come in and just be still,” said the church’s incumbent, the Rev. Capt. David Parsons. If people want somebody to talk to, Parsons said he will be around, along with some counselors from Health Canada.
Parsons said his hope is that people who are burdened by their experiences at residential schools “will be able to lift the anchor and start moving on” and find “inner peace and healing.”
The event opens tonight with a Welcome to Inuvik celebration, where local leaders will treat participants to a community feast and dance at the Midnight Sun Complex. On Tuesday, June 28, TRC commissioners, former students, church and government representatives and other participants will gather for an opening ceremony that will include drumming, prayers, speeches and the lighting of the quilliq (an oil lamp used by the Inuit).
They will then gather at a “Circle of Reconciliation,” where former students-then children, some as young as four years old, and now adults-will be encouraged to share their stories and to “come home” to a place of healing and reconciliation.
There will be daylong opportunities for former students and staff to have their stories and statements gathered in private. Other daily activities include programs for children and youth, as well as cultural events.
The Dialogue of Resilience, a new event feature, will present former students “who have exemplified courage and strength throughout their lives, resulting in public achievements.” The hope is that their experience in overcoming the painful legacy of residential schools will serve as an inspiration to others.
There will also be a Learning Place/Tent, a popular feature at the first national event held in Winnipeg last year, where posters, photographs and videos will be on display not just for former students but for all interested in learning more about the history of residential schools. The Anglican Church’s General Synod archives will be onsite to share its own residential schools collection. The collection of Mossie Moorby, a former staff at Stringer Hall, the Anglican-run residential school in Inuvik, will also be on display.
The Anglican Church will also present copies of the 1993 Anglican residential schools apology made by its former primate, Michael Peers, in the Gwich’in, Inuvialuktun, and Inuktitut languages, as part of its expression of reconciliation. On the last day, July 1, Canada Day, a birthday celebration will be held for all former students, many of whom were unable to celebrate their special day while attending the schools.
The TRC, which has a five-year mandate, was established as part of the revised 2007 settlement agreement that involved residential school survivors, the federal government and churches that operated the schools.
Its core mandate is “to educate all Canadians about the complete history of [the residential schools] and to inspire reconciliation for individuals, families, communities, religious entities, government and the people of Canada.”