OTTAWA – It weighs 11 kilograms, consists of seven volumes and 3,766 pages, but the true weight of the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission report cannot be quantified. Not for residential school survivors, not for their children, and not for the generations to come.
And reconciliation, as the report states, “will require more than pious words about the shortcomings of those who preceded us.”
But as of this week, the truth finally is out. It took 6 years to gather the testimonies of residential school survivors, and in a watershed moment on Tuesday, residential school survivors, their families, the commissioners and Canadian leaders including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came together to recognize those stories and give them the credence they deserve.
Addressing a diverse crowd, Trudeau gave an emotional speech where he remembered how his school teacher skipped over a text book chapter on Indigenous Canadians, saying “it’s not very interesting”.
“I went to some very good schools as a child. And throughout this experience, I can only feel guilty, but at least very aware, of the contrast between my schooling and the experiences some others went through, the survivors went through, the families of the survivors went through, and those who were not survivors.” Trudeau said, before continuing.
“I remember one moment in the Canadian history class, when we got to the chapter in the text book on Indigenous Canadians – good school, good teacher, good text book I suppose – and the teacher shrugged and said, ‘this chapter is not very interesting and not very important so we’re going to skip it’. And we went on to talk about the Durham report or some other such things. And let me tell you – the work you have done here today, the work that all of you here are a part of, will ensure that never again in the future of Canada will students be told that this is not an integral part of everything we are as a country, everything we are as Canadians, and that is a promise we will make right here, all of us, together.”
Later, Trudeau re-iterated his promise to adapt all 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Of the 94 recommendations made in the final report, some of them include:
— Adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
— Establish a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation reaffirming the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and the Crown;
— Solicit from Pope Francis an apology for the role played by the Roman Catholic Church;
— Call a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women (an inquiry was formally announced on December 8);
— Establish a written federal policy reaffirming the independence of the RCMP to investigate crimes in which the federal government may be an interested party;
— Change the oath of citizenship to reflect treaties with Aboriginal Peoples;
— Establish, through the provincial and territorial governments and the federal government, national standards for foster care and reduce the number of aboriginal children in care;
— Repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code, the so-called spanking law, in order to outlaw corporal punishment;
— Create a mandatory, age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, treaties and the contributions of Aboriginal Peoples taught across Canada from kindergarten to grade 12;
— Build a residential-schools monument in every provincial and territorial capital;
— Increase CBC and Radio-Canada funding to better ensure it can support reconciliation and include the languages and perspectives of Aboriginal Peoples;
— Pass a federal law establishing aboriginal education standards to ensure children going to school on reserves have access to the same resources as those outside their communities;
— Develop post-secondary programs in aboriginal languages;
— Establish mechanisms to narrow the health-care gap between Aboriginal Peoples and other Canadians, including building aboriginal healing practices into the health-care system and spending more on aboriginal healing centres;
— Allow trial judges to exempt Aboriginal Peoples from mandatory minimum sentences and work to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal Peoples in prisons and jails;
— Settle residential-school claims with those excluded from settlement agreement, including Metis, day school students and those in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The expansive report also includes testimonies from survivors, a historical overview, the Inuit and Northern experience, the Metis experience, Missing children and unmarked burials, the legacy and reconciliation.
Trudeau closed his speech by offering a formal apology to indigenous peoples when he stated The Government of Canada “sincerely apologizes and asks forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly”.
“We will remember always, that reconciliation is not an Indigenous issue. It is a Canadian issue.”
Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Justice Murray Sinclair, preceded Trudeau’s comments with some of his own, saying that reconciliation will not be simple, but it is necessary for a healed nation-to-nation relationship.
“Achieving reconciliation is like climbing a mountain — we must proceed a step at a time. It will not always be easy. There will be storms, there will be obstacles, but we cannot allow ourselves to be daunted by the task because our goal is just and it also necessary”, Sinclair stated.
“Remember, reconciliation is yours to achieve. We owe it to each other to build a Canada based on our shared future, a future of healing and trust.”
The final Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, including the testimonies of residential school survivors, is now available to the public at www.trc.ca.