On August 8 and 9, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) will gather statements from aboriginal inmates who attended Indian residential schools, marking its first visit to a correctional facility.
The visit will take place at Ontario’s Kenora Jail, where aboriginal inmates make up 92 per cent of the prison population. Most are descendants of children who were taken from their families and sent to residential schools in the Kenora area. These schools included the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School, run by the Presbyterians; the St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, run by the Roman Catholics, and the MicIntosh Indian Residential School, which was affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and run by the Oblates.
Indian residential schools, which operated from the 1870s up to the mid-1990s, “scarred generations of aboriginal children and left a legacy of social problems, poor health and low educational achievement,” said the TRC in a press statement.
The prison visit underscores the TRC’s commitment to ensuring that aboriginal inmates have a chance to share the impact that the schools have had on their lives, said Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC.
“There’s perhaps no other group of individuals in this country that better exemplifies the schools’ tragic legacy,” said Sinclair in the statement.
Madeleine Meilleur, Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said the ministry recognizes the need to connect the inmates with the TRC in order to provide opportunities for healing and reconciliation.
“Telling their stories will give us greater insight into the cruel legacy of Indian residential schools, and may provide inmates with new hope to return to their communities as contributing members of society,” said Meilleur in a statement.
The TRC is a key component of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement involving the federal government, former students and churches, which operated the federally-funded schools. Its mandate is to gather the statements of former students and others who have been affected by the schools’ 150-year legacy and to educate Canadians about it.
The Anglican Church of Canada administered about three dozen residential schools and hostels for indigenous children across Canada.