The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is expecting more than 2,000 survivors of residential schools to share their experiences at its first regional event April 13-14 in Victoria, B.C.
The Victoria gathering, preceded by four other regional hearings in Port Hardy, Port Alberni, Campbell River and Cowichan, will allow survivors unable to attend a national event to share their story.
“The TRC regional event is an opportunity for all Canadians, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to learn about and bear witness to the legacy of the residential school system,” said Justice Murray Sinclair, TRC chair, in a statement. “Each story has its own truth to it.”
Created as part of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the TRC’s mandate is to document the 130-year history of residential schools in Canada and to educate Canadians about their tragic legacy. From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, about 150,000 aboriginal children were put in residential schools as part of a federal program of forced assimilation. The Anglican Church of Canada operated 35 of these schools, including St. Michael’s residential school in Alert Bay, B.C. The Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United churches also operated residential schools.
St. Michael’s residential school started as a day school in 1878 and became a government- funded residential school for boys and girls in 1882. Administered by the Anglican church until 1968, it was home to 163 students representing 20 bands from Kwawkewlth, Terrace, Bella Coola, Skeena and Labine. In 1969, the department of Indian Affairs took over the hostel, and it was renamed the Alert Bay Student Residence. Most of the Anglican staff stayed as government employees.
According to the General Synod archives, the school closed in 1974 “after five years of plummeting enrolment” and in 1975, the building was acquired by the Namgis First Nation for administrative use.
Archbishop John Privett, diocesan bishop of Kootenay and metropolitan of the province of British Columbia and Yukon, will lead the Anglican delegation. Also expected to offer pastoral support are Bishops James Cowan (British Columbia), Michael Ingham (New Westminster), and Barbara Andrews (suffragan to the metropolitan for the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior).
The Victoria event, which will be held at the Victoria Convention Centre and the Fairmont Empress hotel, will feature statement gathering, survivor statements, survivor gatherings, traditional ceremonies, education day, healing and reconciliation events, and cultural performances.
There will also be a Learning Place, a popular feature at the first 2010 national TRC event held in Winnipeg, where photographs, posters and videos about the history of residential schools will be on display. The Anglican church’s archives will have a booth to share its own collection.
Survivors and their families will have an opportunity to share their stories with representatives of churches and receive an apology at the churches’ “listening area.”
Church representatives will speak at sessions on “Expressions of Reconciliation” and “It Matters to Me, A Call to Action on Reconciliation.”
Among other things, Anglicans from the diocese have been knitting dozens of prayer shawls which will be presented to the TRC at a session on “Gestures of Reconciliation,” said Henriette Thompson, the Anglican church’s public witness coordinator for social justice.