Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Truth process rushed: activists

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NOT enough cash, limited time and a shortage of hotel beds mean some residential school survivors won't make it to Winnipeg next week for the first national truth and reconciliation event.

"We have elders who don't have a lot of extra money to travel to Winnipeg to come and tell their stories," said Ray Mason, a former residential school student who heads up Manitoba's survivors' association. "I'm hearing from elders and survivors that it's too soon. There's a lot of unfinished business."

About 5,000 people, including 500 survivors, will gather at The Forks on Wednesday to kick off a four-day celebration honouring residential school survivors and highlighting aboriginal culture.

It's the first of seven national events planned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission over the next five years, and it's the first mass statement-taking the TRC has done. The commission has booked 23 private rooms at the Inn at The Forks where survivors can tell researchers about their experiences, share documents and photos and get help from hundreds of mental-health experts.

But many survivors live on remote reserves in Manitoba or northwestern Ontario, and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has been scrambling to help organize and subsidize travel for as many of them as possible.

The AMC has about $25,000, much donated by churches, to help pay for travel and accommodations, which should cover about 300 people. Jennifer Wood, the AMC's residential schools co-ordinator, said she could bring in three times that if she had more funds.

Money isn't the only problem. Most of Winnipeg's hotel rooms are booked, so the TRC and the AMC have turned to local universities for help. Canadian Mennonite University, the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba have all opened dorm rooms, and the TRC is co-ordinating private billets for survivors.

Wood said it's been tough to co-ordinate so many survivors with only four months to plan.

"It's just time-crunch, time-crunch, time-crunch," said Wood, before a lunch-hour event at the Manitoba legislature Thursday to honour residential school survivors.

Mason agreed, saying the entire TRC process has happened too fast. Many survivors are still working their way through the cumbersome compensation process and may not be ready to tell their stories.

But TRC executive director Tom McMahon said the commission only has five years to fulfil a huge mandate that includes seven national events. It's vital it get on with its work.

Statement-takers will travel to many Manitoba communities over the next five years to hear from survivors, so the Winnipeg event isn't their only chance.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 11, 2010 A6

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