OTTAWA — A report detailing a dark chapter of Canada’s history is to be released today in Ottawa.
Five years and $60 million have gone into the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s six-volume study of Canada’s residential schools.
The schools were established in the 1840s to “take the Indian out of the child” and lasted until the 1990s.
About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools, with some 80,000 still alive today.
The report chronicles their stories and will provide a lengthy list of recommendations.
Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair says many survivors’ stories are difficult to hear, noting the litany of physical, sexual and mental abuse that too often characterized the residential schools.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicked off the long reconciliation process with a moving apology from the government of Canada in the House of Commons in June 2008, with the commission getting off to a wobbly start the following year.
The original three commissioners all resigned before the project hit its stride, eventually visiting hundreds of communities and hearing testimony from 7,000 survivors.
“But we cannot permit discomfort to prevent us from accepting the truth,” Sinclair said Monday. “Rather, it should set the course towards our actions in future.”
Education — sharing the story of the country’s dark past — is expected to feature prominently.
“There can be no reconciliation without education,” Jason Lafferty, the education minister for the Northwest Territories, told a gathering that included hundreds of residential schools survivors.
The territorial government has already developed and implemented the first comprehensive curriculum covering the history of residential schools and their legacy and it is in talks with other provincial education ministries about sharing the program nationally.
“We’re willing to offer training in school settings for teachers that are going through the trauma when they’re teaching, because it is very emotional and a very sensitive topic to talk about,” Lafferty said Monday in an interview.
Celebrated author Joseph Boyden was inducted as an honorary witness Monday, along with Sharon Johnston, the wife of the Governor General. Some 80 such honorary witnesses are charged with carrying the commission’s message out to the world.
It’s going to be a generational job, Boyden said in an interview.
“Today and the week that’s coming does not suggest that everything is done. Things are just beginning in terms of speaking to Canadians about our history.”
Boyden said his next novel will deal indirectly with the fallout from residential schools.