Documents to Change Hearts & Minds: Reading the Findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

On June 2 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC/Commission) held its final public gathering to release its findings after 6 years travelling the country to collect stories and testimony related to Indian Residential Schools (IRS).  The work of the Commission had been mandated as part of the Indian and Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (Settlement Agreement).

The full text of the Commission’s final report will be available at a later date but the four documents it has released are an extraordinary read:  an Executive Summary; a Principles document; a document with first-hand accounts called Survivors Speak; and Calls to Action containing the 94 recommendations of the Commission.

All four documents are written in a style accessible to many readers.  These are not “academic” documents and they are definitely not filled with legalese.  I have read all four and as I sat down to write this I knew what my suggestion would be as to which one people should read first.  In the spirit of “change hearts, then minds,” I encourage you to read first – and share widely – Survivors Speak.  To me, this is the heart-changing document of the TRC.

Most people in Canada were not in attendance when IRS survivors and others spoke to the Commission (in the end, some 7,000 witnesses gave testimony). This document provides a representative glimpse into what was shared over the past 6 years.  It is filled with long-form quotations from survivors about their experiences.  The document begins with a section where survivors shared what their life was like before they were taken from their communities. Then, among a wide range of experiences covered, there are sections about the days and moments children were taken, sections about specific forms of abuse, sections about daily routines and food, and sections where some survivors share positive moments they remember.

The document reads very quickly because of the immediacy of the survivors’ voices but, as expected, it is a very difficult document to read.  In all seriousness, I recommend people plan to read it in a time and place that will give them space afterwards to take in what they have just learned.

The Executive Summary is a very useful document particularly for people who were not familiar with the TRC and who have not yet learned about the history and legacy of residential schools. If after reading both of these documents people have the question: “How do we move forward?” the Principles document gives the TRC’s proposed answer in ten short and powerful ideas.

The Commission made 94 recommendations which it named its Calls to Action. The recommendations are very engaging and do a lot to teach about the wide-reaching legacy of the schools.  There are recommendations for the public and post-secondary education systems, others for the child welfare system and even ones about public broadcasting and a suggested change to the country’s citizenship oath – to mention just a few.

Most adults living in Canada today received little or no information about residential schools as part of their schooling.  This is one reason why Chair of the TRC, Justice Murray Sinclair, has placed such an emphasis on education being necessary for reconciliation.  In providing the country with clear and powerful documents the TRC has made a significant contribution towards mending that education gap.  We have been given the materials and the stories – it is now up to the Canadian public to engage with what has been shared.

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Winnipeg Public Library ordered multiple copies of the TRC’s documents as soon as the findings were released.  They will be made available when we receive them.  We encourage people to make use of the many resources found on the TRC website.  For example, here is a map and list of residential schools from across the country identified in the Settlement Agreement. There were fourteen in Manitoba, including one in Winnipeg.  The Commission’s website also contains the biographies of all three Commissioners: the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson and Chief Wilton Littlechild.

To continue your learning about this topic here is a list of titles about residential schools, for adults, teens and children, available in our collection.

Monique W.

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