The poster for this event can be viewed here: TRC Urban Inuit Statement Gathering Event
Yesterday, August 16th, 2012, I attended a Truth and Reconciliation of Commission of Canada (TRC) statement-gathering event for Urban Inuit survivors of the Indian Residential Schools System and their families. Held in downtown Ottawa at the Sheraton Hotel, this gathering was open to the public and encouraged the sharing of experiences surrounding the residential schools. I sat and listened to statements in the afternoon session. The majority of the statements I heard were from former students who attended these schools as recently as during the 1960s.
As listened to the painful stories that were nevertheless expressed with strength, hope, and at times humour, I noted how many of the stories were told as two distinct moments: My life before I went to residential schools and my life since I went to residential schools. These stories express the violent and multiple losses of childhood innocence and experience that many, if not most, in the “western” world have the fortune of enjoying until they feel ready to “be an adult”. Put otherwise, survivors shared experiences that went from innocence, security, unity, freedom, and love to confusion, danger, separation, confinement, and fear… And everything in between.
Interesting, I thought to myself, that the federal discourse on residential schools incorporates a dual-moment narrative, but in reverse. As Prime Minister Harper expressed in his apology, Canada has gone from “a policy of assimilation that was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country” to forging “a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward with a renewed understanding that strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us” (Statement of Apology).
I worry that this assertion of Canada’s progress, its new-found respect for and understanding of Indigenous peoples, overpowers the stories of IRS survivors. The history of the Indian Residential Schools System risks becoming more about Canada finding its way to better and more just policies and relations, than about how it betrayed and failed First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and even less-so about the struggles they face today.