Feds perpetrated cultural genocide, TRC

by Derek Cornet

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) came to an end last week with the release of a landmark report, which includes 94 recommendations to mend relationships between aboriginal people and all other Canadians.

Established in 2008 under the terms of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, three commissioners worked to reveal the complex truth about the history and ongoing legacy of the church-run schools.

“For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s aboriginal policy were to eliminate aboriginal governments, aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and through a process of assimilation, cause aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada,” reads the first paragraph of the report’s summary. “The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element to this policy, which can be best described as cultural genocide.”

Waterhen Lake First Nation member Robert Fiddler was among a group of five survivors who travelled to Ottawa for the release of the report. He had taken part in the TRC process and told his story to commissioners during a hearing. Fiddler said, during the last several years, wounds have been exposed as First Nations people are talking about residential schools like never before.

“I saw the emotional, physical and sexual abuse happen,” he remarked. “Before I went to residential school, I felt free and happy. I was in a safe atmosphere. After I went, there were changes instilled within me.”

The residential school program operated from 1883-1996 and 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were involved. About 6,000 of those children died at the schools while there are close to 80,000 still alive today. TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair told the media, students who attended these schools had the same chance of survival as a Canadian soldier deployed during the Second World War.

Among the report’s recommendations are the creation of a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, a commitment to eliminate the over-representation of aboriginal people in custody and in trouble with the law, the creation and funding for new aboriginal education legislation and the acknowledgement the current state of aboriginal health is a direct result of previous government policies.

It also calls for a statutory holiday to honour survivors and their families, funding for memorials, community events and museums and the creation of a National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Meadow Lake Tribal Council chief Eric Sylvestre said the TRC did its due diligence and has recognized a number of recommendations. He hopes the federal government acts upon them, particularly in the area of education.

“The prime minister, on behalf of all Canadian people, has made an apology, but the recommendations are calling for more than a statement,” Sylvestre said.

MLTC is planning an event for survivors in Beauval this August.

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