Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Long road to reconciliation: youth worker

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The sheer volume of personal stories is nothing short of breathtaking.

It's expected more than 30,000 statements -- written, oral and through video -- will be collected from residential school survivors and their family members once the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) concludes its work on June 30, 2014.

Many of those statements were filed along with claims for injuries by aboriginal people who attended residential schools in the last century. Thousands more and are being gathered by the TRC, which was formed in 2008 after Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to the former students, calling it "a sad chapter in our history."

Justice Murray Sinclair, chairman of the commission, said Tuesday there is still much work to do, including national events to host in Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, where survivors will share their stories with the commission.

Sinclair said in an interview following a two-hour event co-hosted by the TRC and University of Manitoba Tuesday at Government House that he and his two fellow commissioners began writing their report almost from the time they were appointed.

The commission started by poring over many previous commissions, parliamentary committee findings, public inquiries and academic and government reports spanning decades. "The one thing that you can say about aboriginal people in this country, they have been studied to death," the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench justice said.

Sinclair said the commission will draw on the past reports and build on them with the testimony it has been gathering from meetings such as the one Tuesday in Winnipeg.

More than 100 people, including city police Chief Devon Clunis, attended Tuesday's event. The event featured a panel that included a residential school survivor and elder, a youth leader, the deputy minister of Manitoba's new Children and Youth Opportunities Department, University of Manitoba president David Barnard, and an academic from St. Boniface College.

Michael Champagne, an award-winning inner-city Winnipeg youth worker and the son of a residential school survivor, said reconciliation will occur if and when those who have received apologies for past wrongs feel the apologies were sincerely made. Words must be backed by actions, he said.

"If I say I'm sorry that I behaved in this way, that means I don't behave in that way anymore," said Champagne, who added the road to reconciliation is likely to be a long one.

Sinclair said the commission's goal is to lay out clearly what it thinks reconciliation entails and "how we need to get there."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2012 A8

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