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Image Source: United Church of Canada Archives

For 150 years the Canadian government forcefully removed Indigenous children from their homes, families and everything they knew in order to get rid of “the Indian problem” through forced assimilation. The goal of assimilation was based on racist ideology which suppressed Indigenous culture by christianizing “Indians” and civilizing “savages”. More than 150,000 children were placed in 139 residential schools across Canada where they endured substandard living conditions, physical and sexual abuse, and trauma. Survivors persevered, eventually coming forward with the truth about what occurred at these schools and following up with the largest class action lawsuit in Canadian history. Out of this The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was born in June 2008.

Here are nine must know facts connected to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC):

1. Unique to Canada

Once the lawsuit was settled out of court, survivors realised they would never have their day in court and that there would be no public record of their stories. Survivors fought hard to make the TRC in Canada to be a part of the legal settlement agreement. This makes it unique amongst all of the TRC’s throughout the world.

2. Over 7,000 Former Students Testified

The TRC visited over 300 communities across the nation gathering witness testimonies at private and public statement gathering events. “It will take more than two years to play back the more than 6,500 statements – they range in length from 10 minutes to five hours.”

Truth and Reconciliation Nearly 4 Years of Hearings… – CBC

3. Electrical Chairs Used As Torture

Former students reported being electrocuted in a homemade electric chair as means of punishment by missionaries. One witness states, “The sight of a child being electrocuted and their legs waving in front of them was a funny sight for the missionaries and they’d all be laughing.” The government tried to not acknowledge these claims, but an Ontario Judge has recently ruled the federal government must turn over documented evidence.

Ottawa thwarting residential school compensation claims from ‘electric chair’ victims – National Post

4. Malnutrition Experiments

Image Source: Sacred Heart Parish NWT Archives

Beginning in 1942 the government started to perform several experiments to test the effects of malnutrition on approximately 1000 children spanning six residential schools. Students from Port Alberni, B.C., Kenora, Ont., Shubenacadie, N.S., and Lethbridge, Alta. suffered as ‘guinea pigs’ on research that went nowhere.

B.C. Residential School Survivor Says He Was Starved – Huffington Post

5. Seven National TRC Events

TRC events held throughout the country allowed survivors to come forward in a safe, supportive environment with their stories to educate the public, promote awareness about the Indian residential schools and their impact. It will take generations for the healing process to be completed and to rid society of persistent negative racial stereotypes about the First Peoples of Canada used to justify the schools.

6. Former Students Advise TRC

Image Source: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

The Indian Residential Schools (IRS) Survivor Committee is made up of ten residential school survivors from across Canada that serve as an advisory committee to the TRC on: community characteristics to participate in Commission processes; the criteria for the community and national processes; the evaluation of Commemoration Policy Directive proposals and other issues as are required by the Commissioners.

You can read their bios here:

Meet the Members of the Indian Residential School Survivor Committee (IRSSC) – Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

7. The Bentwood Box

The Bentwood box will be used to gather offerings, representing the personal journeys of the survivors. It was steamed, bent and carved from a single piece of red cedar by Coast Salish artist Luke Marston as a tribute to the victims of the IRS system. Each panel represents an Indigenous culture – the First Nations, Inuit and Metis – who suffered in residential schools.

Marston said that while he was creating the box “he asked his mother to tell him stories about his grandmother’s time at residential school… his mother told him that when his grandmother was a young child, she was grabbed by a nun and thrown down the stairs, breaking her fingers. Her hand was never cared for and her fingers healed in a cramped position.”

Bent box will gather the gifts of survivors – Aboriginal Multi-Media Society (AMMSA)

8. The Missing Children’s Project

“They didn’t bring their bodies home. They don’t know where they are buried” says a survivor of two Saskatchewan residential schools. The Missing Children Project was created by the TRC with the mandate to accurately account for the identity of the children who died, their cause of death and where were they buried while attending a residential school. So far the count is up to 4,100 and expected to rise.

TRC piecing fragments from history’s shadows… – APTN

9. The National Research Centre

Truth Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Image Source: Greg Pender – The StarPhoenix

The surviving student’s audio and video statements will be housed at The National Research Centre hosted by the University of Manitoba. With survivors consent, their statements, documents, audio/video material or photographs can be used for TRC research, be displayed at the NRC or be used in any educational material developed by the TRC. Third parties will also get to use this material if approved by the TRC for respectful educational purposes.

Historic agreement signed on National Aboriginal Day – University of Manitoba

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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as Associate Editor for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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  1. Nadine St-Louis

    Thank you for the work you are doing Muskrat Magazine on bringing awareness about the Truth & Reconciliation and also making our voices heard in the reconciliation through art and culture. Chi meegwetch

  2. Larry J. Russell

    I have a home on the Sisseton-Wapehton Dakotah Reservation in US. This is just the beginning of some of the things I saw a number of years ago. There is a coming together or a rebirth of a nation which, in reality, never was destroyed, though they have suffered much. This coming together will be noted world wide. This desire to come home has a divine purpose for no one really knows the wealth that lies beneath their communities wealth and resources the nations of the earth desire to have.

  3. Moveebuff

    The picture of the children in the classroom is heartbreaking. They all look so sad. It’s such a haunting image.

  4. James Balkwill

    In reviewing the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Report that there are a number of areas that are not truthful and that on the whole the report lacks balance as the testimony that was given was to the largest extent unchallenged with much hearsay. As such it looks as if the report was done to come to a predetermined result.


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