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Inuvik-As Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Commissioner Marie Wilson put it, former Indian residential schools students who gathered here on June 27 to July 1 experienced both pain and joy.
There was pain as some recalled bitter experiences at government-funded schools run by mainline churches, which originally were meant to assimilate native children. There was joy as former classmates-some who hadn’t seen each other in 30 to 40 years-recalled moments when they had each other’s backs.
More than 1,000 former students, members of their families, representatives of churches and government agencies attended the Northern National Event of the TRC. The TRC, which is part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement involving churches, government and survivors, is mandated to gather the testimonies of former students and to educate Canadians about the legacy of the residential schools.
A lot of tears were shed at the Sharing Panel and at the Commissioners’ panel, where former students talked publicly about their experiences-ranging from loneliness at being separated from everything familiar to them, to hurt from physical and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of some staff, and the subsequent dysfunction in their own families as a result.
But, as in the first TRC national event held last year in Winnipeg, organizers made sure that each day ended with something light and uplifting for participants. The evening “Call to Gather” session featured music and comedy with native performers, a fashion show highlighting aboriginal designers, and a talent show.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, took in a talent show one night and said he enjoyed seeing the happiness in former students’ faces as they showcased their gifts-which ranged from dancing to singing to drumming to playing the violin.
Throughout the day, former students, their families and the general public also had an opportunity to go to the Learning Space located at the skating rink of the Midnight Sun Complex, the main venue. The Learning Space offered documentaries about the history of the residential schools, the TRC hearings that were conducted across 18 northern communities earlier this year, demonstrations of traditional sports, exhibits of Inuit culture and art, and sales of arts and crafts.
The Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Roman Catholic churches also ran exhibits of residential school materials that included photographs and documents, all of which former students could photocopy. (The Anglican Journal will have a story on the General Synod Archives exhibit at the event.)
Aside from community feasts at lunch and dinner times for participants, food kiosks also sold traditional food, including raw or cooked muktuk (whale blubber and skin), Eskimo donuts, reindeer soup, arctic char chowder and fish patties.