The symbol of the TRC event in Inuvik this June will be the bear, which represents the warrior and protector. Photo: Glen Gaffney
Reconciliation-between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches and between Inuit and Dene students who attended residential schools in the North–will be the major focus of the 2nd Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) event June 28 to July 1.
The event is being held in Inuvik, NWT, which has the highest ratio of residential school students per capita. There is an aboriginal majority population in two of the three territories.
The Northern event “presents an opportunity and potential for powerful reconciliation gestures,” TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson said in a recent meeting with church representatives. The majority of Inuit children attended Anglican-run residential schools, while most Dene children attended Catholic-run schools in the North. Rivalry between them was encouraged and friction continues to this day, said Wilson.
The theme for the Inuvik event will be courage and the bear, regarded by native people as having the spirit of the warrior and protector. The bear will be used as a symbol in gatherings, said Lisa Meeches, TRC director of events planning.
The TRC Commissioners have recommended that this event and future events organize an honouring ceremony for former students who died while in the schools and were not able to return home. Churches and community groups are also being invited to bake cupcakes for a common celebration of birthdays, because one of the things that many students lost was “a sense of individual celebration,” said Wilson.
Fourteen residential schools in the territories have been identified in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement involving churches, the federal government and former students. That agreement led to the creation of the TRC, whose 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.”
Before its five-year term ends, the TRC has to hold seven national events that will contribute to the healing of residential school survivors, their families and the country.
The Anglican Church of Canada will be represented at the event by the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, and some national church staff. Its national archives will also take part in the Learning Tent, where residential school documents and photographs will be on display. It has also agreed to contribute funds that will go into a common pool to support travel, food and accommodations for former students and their families who will attend the event. The Presbyterian and United churches – which operated residential schools elsewhere in Canada – have offered financial support for the event and will be sending their own representatives.