(This article first appeared in the March issue of the Anglican Journal.)
The newspaper’s website, anglicanjournal.com, has launched Eyewitness, Special Coverage of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The web page compiles the newspaper’s extensive and award-winning coverage of the TRC national events, beginning in 2010 in Winnipeg.
The collection of more than 150 stories, photographs and videos offers a comprehensive look at the impact of the Indian residential school system on aboriginal people across Canada. It also documents how the Anglican Church of Canada-which operated 35 of these schools between 1820 and 1969-has responded to the enormous challenge of healing and reconciliation. The stories feature former students and their families, former staff, church and government representatives, foreign observers and interested Canadians who chose to take part in an undertaking unprecedented in Canadian history.
The Journal hopes that Eyewitness will contribute to further understanding about what has been dubbed “Canada’s shame” and encourage more conversations and action.
A key component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the TRC was created to gather the experiences of more than150,000 former students and their families, to educate Canadians about the schools’ history and to inspire reconciliation “among individuals, families, communities, religious entities, government, and the people of Canada.”
At the first national event in Winnipeg in June 2010, TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair urged those present to simply listen and be open. “You will notice a resilience and strength that is nothing short of remarkable,” he said, referring to former residential school students, many already in their twilight years and sharing their childhood experiences for the very first time. “There is an unmistakable, absolute truth experienced when the person across from you summons up immeasurable courage to tell you something they may never have told anyone.”
In June, the TRC will end its four-year term, with the seventh and final national event to be held in Ottawa. A key question that needs to be answered is whether Canadians have listened and, if so, what are they prepared to do about what they have heard. A statement made by TRC commissioner Marie Wilson at the Winnipeg event lends particular resonance: “What we have kept repeating is if the TRC ends up being a series of very well-intentioned activities that lead only to aboriginal people talking to themselves, our country will have missed the best opportunity that we had in nation building, in possibly our entire history.”
The primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, has attended all TRC events so far. Each time, he has reiterated the church’s 1993 apology to aboriginal people for its role in running the schools, where some students suffered physical and sexual abuse. Hiltz also expressed the church’s commitment to the healing journey for the long haul, acknowledging that healing and reconciliation could take generations. After all, the schools operated for a century and the legacy of trauma and institutional racism continue to this day-aboriginal people suffer a higher incidence of poverty, addictions, family violence, depression, poor health, inadequate housing and incarceration.
In order for this commitment to take root, however, it will need to be fully embraced by Anglicans across Canada. The reality is that the residential school legacy remains either a polarizing issue or a non-issue in some parts of the church. The Primate’s Commission on the Doctrine of Discovery, Reconciliation and Healing will need to address this. Created on the recommendation of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, part of the commission’s mandate is to move forward with reconciliation and address continuing injustices faced by Canada’s indigenous communities. ?There is much work to be done. ?
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