Mental health support for survivors, education for all Canadians and a framed copy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s historic apology for the residential school system in every secondary school in the country.
Those are three of the main recommendations contained in the interim report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, released ahead of schedule on February 23 to CBC News. The report, marking the halfway point of the commission’s five-year mandate, was leaked a day ahead of its official unveiling set for Friday February 24.
In the report the commission—comprised of chair Murray Sinclair, Wilton Littlechild and Marie Wilson—said they strove to speak directly to people involved in the schools, particularly students. To this end they have been holding public events all across the country since beginning their work.
What they gathered was a huge array of experience, from students who enjoyed their time at residential school, to those who survived the alienation and isolation of being cut off from their culture by participating in sports and the arts, to teachers and church members who today struggle to come to terms with the damage wrought by the practices of the schools.
And then of course there were the legions of students who were abused sexually, physically, spiritually and in every other way. Some found themselves unable to love their children but redeeming that love in interactions with their grandchildren. Others are front and center leading the way in the healing process.
“It is clear from the presentations that the people who have been damaged by the residential schools—the former students and their families—have been left to heal themselves,” the commission’s report said. “It is also the former students who have led the way to reconciliation, and they continue to lead the way. By regaining their voice, they have instigated an important national conversation. All Canadians need to engage in this work.”
Among the recommendations summarized by CBC News, the TRC said that provinces and territories should take another look at what students are taught in public schools about this era, and consider curriculum changes to fill in any gaps. The commission said that the federal government must set up counseling centers, ensure that the commission remains adequately funded and meet its mandated deadline, restore Aboriginal Healing Foundation funding and hand over all the documents that the commission needs to complete its work. In addition, attention should be paid to former students who feel left out of compensation programs, CBC News said. For all this, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be the framework for reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, CBC News reported.
The press conference releasing the report—an interim report and a historical report—is being webcast from Vancouver at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (1:30 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast).