All parties - aboriginal groups, churches that ran the schools and the federal government that enacted the policy - approved the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Along with cash payments to individual victims, a planned apology from the government, $100 million in funding towards healing initiatives and $20 million for a commemoration and memorial program, the settlement agreement ordered $60 million in government money for the TRC.
"That court order says the parties will cooperate fully and participate fully," [Justice Laforme, the Commission leader] said.
"We know the truth in a broad, general sense. Nobody can deny that this happened," said Justice LaForme. "So what we are really looking for now is what are the details of that truth? And what is the breadth and width of it? That's the truth component.
"The beauty of a TRC is being able to isolate a timeframe and look at a series of events and to frame it around massive human rights violates and the role of government or particular players," said Karen Murphy, director of international programs for Facing History and Ourselves, a U.S.-based nonprofit group. "What you are doing in Canada is pretty amazing."
Colour me skeptical too, but from a different angle. As Laforme said, there’s little doubt that there were abuses. But what chance is there that the TRC will get the full "truth"? And without it what does "reconciliation" mean? In today’s pc multi-culti orthodoxy, assimilation is equated with evil. So pretty well everyone who attended the schools is considered a victim. And it’s fairly certain the commission will hear the horror stories. But no matter how well intentioned the schools may have been or how much the residents may have actually benefitted from them, that part of the truth won’t likely be heard, much less recorded.
As the commission begins its work, critics are already asking victims to boycott it, calling it a "sham" and a "whitewash."
"To think that we can somehow engineer reconciliation when we are not even doing the most basic things we should be doing towards native people, like treating them like they are equal citizens," said Kevin Annett, a former United Church minister . [A good point - but I don’t think he’d agree with my idea of "equal" treatment.]
In his excellent article in the 'Post' Prof. Rodney Clifton, an Anglican with long experience in the education of aboriginal people, provides credible, detailed confirmation of this view:
My bet is that Prof Clifton's truths will earn him some hate mail. But I hope that he and others of like mind and experience will get the opportunity to testify before the Commission.
The commission likely will hear many stories that reflect the claims made by Michael Ignatieff, the deputy leader of the Liberal party, .... Mr. Ignatieff wrote: "The residential school system ? "... most dismaying betrayal of Canada's first peoples in our history"; and "The worst legacy ... poisoned the wells of faith in education among generations of aboriginal Canadians."
Many people believe that. But is it true?
... we know that some people working in residential schools brutalized the children under their care. Such individuals should be punished for their crimes. So should administrators from both the churches and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs who covered them up.
Nevertheless, the aboriginal residential-school history must be put into appropriate context. At the time, aboriginal residential schools were not much different from many other schools. Many non-aboriginal children, for example, were strapped in schools; some were also sexually abused. [almost anyone who went to school prior to the 1970s can recall corporal punishment and verbal abuse of one kind or another]
...not all the children who attended residential schools were aboriginal. At Stringer Hall, about 12% of the 280 students were non-aboriginal -- the children of ...merchants, missionaries and trappers from tiny settlements where no schools existed.
Finally, some aboriginal children had been physically and sexually abused in their home communities and residential schools actually saved some of them from continued abuse.
Even though this evidence has been available for some time, it is obvious that Michael Ignatieff did not consider it before saying: "Another illusion is that the intentions behind the [residential] schools were good."
On the contrary, my experience is that most of the people who worked in residential schools wanted to help the children receive a good education that would allow them to survive in the modern world. Most of these people also wanted to fulfill the evangelistic calling of committed Christians: to help the poor, tend to the weak and treat the sick.
I pray that the commission will hear a variety of perspectives. Unfortunately, I do not think this will happen because of the hostile climate that now exists.
In this reinterpretation of history, neither the Canadian people nor the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners will likely hear the full story. As a result, I do not think the commission will achieve lasting reconciliation.