Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has begun to give its account of one of the darkest periods in the country’s modern history. On Tuesday the Commission, which has been in session for the past six years, gave a summary of its findings into Canada’s residential school system and the abuses of native children educated within it.
The residential school system, which was set up in the 1870s and ended in 1996, is well documented by now. Children from First Nations and other indigenous communities were taken away from their families and housed in schools that were run by the government and the church. The goal, according to the Truth and Reconciliation’s mission statement, was to eradicate the cultural and linguistic identity of the children within the school’s confines.
The abuses committed within these institutions – often meted out as punishment for a child speaking his or her native language – still cast a shadow across the communities most directly affected and over the rest of the nation more broadly. The full report will be published later this year and both the government and First Nations and other indigenous groups involved in the process have said that the findings are, of course, a milestone in the process of healing a national trauma but that it’s the response to follow that will truly give a marker of how the country has addressed the atrocities undertaken against native Canadian children.
The research that has been undertaken to establish how effective Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are is divided. Here in Canada, action has already been taken: prime minister Stephen Harper’s historic apology in 2008; and the $60m (€53m) Residential Schools Settlement, the largest in Canadian history. But Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are surely most valuable when the nation at large – not just those directly involved in the case being addressed – understands the process at play. Whether that is the case here in Canada, at this stage of the Truth and Reconciliation process, is unclear.
Tomos Lewis is Monocle’s bureau chief in Toronto.