Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair opened the fourth national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Prairieland Park, Saskatoon, by thanking the leaders of Treaty 6 for inviting the commission into their lands He also thanked all those, from survivors to commissioners and organizers, who have participated in the TRC’s work to date.
Saskatchewan, the chair of the TRC commissioners noted, has one of Canada’s highest numbers of survivors of the residential schools system-some 30,000 First Nation and Métis people have applied for compensation under the class-action settlement agreement.
Sinclair reminded the audience that the TRC’s aim is “to put on record the true story of residential schools to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to know what happened. We take it as a sacred responsibility to create a national memory around the residential schools so that no one will ever be allowed to say that it never happened.”
And it is not only the stories of aboriginal survivors that will be heard and recorded. “Our responsibility is also to hear the voices of the management, the teachers and other employees. We invite them to come forward and tell us what they know or saw or heard,” he said.
Sinclair reminded listeners to expect no rapid healing. “The schools affected seven generations over 110 to 130 years and they caused a lot of damage to individuals, families and communities,” he said. “So we acknowledge that reconciliation may take a long time. It may take another seven generations to achieve that state of balance that the schools took away.”
Sinclair stressed that this and other TRC events are not just about the survivors but also about their children and grandchildren. “The intergenerational survivors need a chance to have their voices heard and to say what they wish to see for the future.”
Sinclair stressed that all Canadians must understand the legacy of the schools and must take responsibility for this national disgrace. “This is not an Indian problem; this is a Canadian problem.”
To achieve reconciliation, people must listen to and understand rhe stories of those most directly affected. “But those who came to this land and imposed their will have also been affected,” he said. “As children in public schools they were told that aboriginals were inferior and their culture irrelevant. That needs to change.”
Sinclair concluded by saying that if it was a form of education that got Canada into this problem, it is through education that Canadians will get out of it. “Therefore, all you who are here to bear witness, we ask you to take the message to all of Canada that we must all embrace the solution.” By overcoming this part of our history, he said, we can build a better country for all Canadians.
The TRC event runs from June 21 to June 24 and can we viewed live at www.trc.ca