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This article was published 4/6/2016 (1532 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s been a year since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented the executive summary of its report on Canada’s residential school system. How many people have read it?
The TRC presented 94 recommendations on how Canada can move forward on accepting the truth about residential schools and begin reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada. None of them will gain much traction without a better understanding of history.
Recommendation No. 63 specifically calls for "developing and implementing curriculums and learning resources about aboriginal peoples in Canadian history and the history and legacy of residential schools." Since the release of the executive summary in June, schools and universities across the country have announced changes to the curriculum to ensure Canadian students understand that part of history.
But what about those who are no longer in a formal school system? How can they educate themselves? Fortunately, there’s a widely available primer on that history in the executive summary of the TRC final report.
The full report runs to six volumes and thousands of pages. It’s a lot to delve into. But some Canadians are calling on others to start reading with the TRC reading challenge, outlined at trcreadingchallenge.com, which began as an initiative to get 1,000 people to read just the executive summary of the final report. That document is a novel-sized 382 pages. The challenge isn’t even about finishing the report within a set time, but only for people to begin reading by June 21. The number of people who pledged to take the challenge, and in turn challenge others to do so, has passed 2,000. The document is available online in multiple formats and is simple to download.
The stated aims of the residential school system were clear; to "kill the Indian in the child" and serve as a mechanism for forced assimilation of aboriginal people into Canadian society. In addition to its overt function of denying generations of children any pride in their heritage as well as time with their families, the chronically underfunded schools were rife with disease, abuse and horrifically high mortality rates. The last residential school was closed in 1996. This is not ancient history, though it’s one many Canadians might like to ignore.
There is a better way forward than denying the past, and that’s learning the truth about it. And there’s a movement afoot to challenge yourself and others to read what the TRC had to say.
Many Canadians did not learn much about the residential schools while they existed, or indeed even after the last one closed its doors. But the damage the system has done to generations of aboriginal families, and to Canadian society as a whole, is huge. When the horrors perpetrated in the name of assimilating aboriginal people are dismissed as something that couldn’t have been that bad (#notallresidentialschools, perhaps?) or as being all in the past, that’s a position of wilful ignorance. The TRC undertook years of work, compiled thousands of documents and heard testimony from more than 6,750 people, including survivors and former school staff, coast to coast. It’s overwhelming evidence and should enlarge our view of Canada’s history. And that work, that history, is available for all Canadians to read, watch and listen to.
To deny the effect of Canada’s residential school system is akin to denying the effect of slavery in the United States or apartheid in South Africa. It’s a position that can be made only in ignorance. But if Canadians are serious about loving their country, that means being critical of it as well and learning the truth. Without that, we won’t be able to see — or choose — a better way forward.
Reading the TRC’s executive summary won’t necessarily be easy; it is sure to challenge assumptions and demand emotional work. But getting started has been made as easy as possible. The question for Canadians is, do we want to continue to ignore this history, or learn from it and choose something better?
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