by Chris Sabas
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) finally released its long-anticipated report in early June, finding Canada guilty of “cultural genocide” against Indigenous Peoples through the state-sponsored, church-run Indian Residential Schools.
The TRC was created as part of a multi-billion dollar settlement between the Federal government, participating church denominations and Indigenous survivors of the Residential School system. According to the report, “The intent of the government’s policy…was to assimilate Aboriginal people into broader Canadian society. At the end of this process, Aboriginal people were expected to have ceased to exist as a distinct people with their own governments, cultures and identities.”
Approximately 150,000 Indigenous children went through the Indian residential school program which began in the early 1800’s and only ended when the last school closed in the 1990s. Children taken from their homes were placed in schools far from their families where they experienced physical and sexual abuse, indoctrination to “civilized” ideals (including forced conversion to Christianity), and cruel prohibitions against speaking their native languages.
The TRC lays out 94 recommendations to help mark the path toward reconciliation and living in right relationship. (See full report - http://goo.gl/VfsPZG.)
Perhaps not surprisingly the TRC report has critics on both sides. The Conservative Harper government – the very same government that issued Canada’s formal apology for the Residential School system – objects to the TRC’s charge of “cultural genocide.” Others believe that the report does not go far enough in its condemnation, insisting that genocide is genocide, and using the term “cultural” indicates a “watered down” approach.
CPT’s Indigenous Peoples Solidarity team has actively participated in numerous TRC events, bearing witness to the gut-wrenching testimony from both victims and prior school officials. TRC member Justice Sinclair has repeatedly said that it took us 500 years to reach this point and that it will likely take another 500 years to come to any sense of wholeness and healing. Let’s get started.
Chris Sabas is an Iranian-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Maryland. She served full-time for three years with CPT’s Indigenous People’s Solidarity team and now continues as a Reservist and an At-Large Member of CPT’s Steering Committee. See her full reflection on the TRC report at http://goo.gl/fhgEAV.