Views / Opinion

Read the TRC Report, then do something about it

We can’t reconcile if we don’t know the history

Residential school survivors and aboriginal women react as Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the commission in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in Ottawa.

The Canadian Press

Residential school survivors and aboriginal women react as Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair speaks at the commission in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in Ottawa.

On June 2, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report on residential schools was released. I remember standing in a packed Ottawa hotel lobby, watching along with hundreds of others who had travelled from across the country. I was a little grouchy going in. The impact of residential schools is well-documented. It felt impossible to find any reason for hope in yet another report filled with horrifying stories. (Just when we think we’ve heard the worst, there’s always more.)

Three months later, we are in a federal campaign, and the TRC report has slipped the minds of politicians. How can we reconcile when so many don’t know the history of this land or extent of the atrocities committed in Canada’s name?

Reading the 388-page report is a daunting task, even more so because of the difficult content. Over the summer, Zoe Todd (Métis, Edmonton), Joseph Murdoch-Flowers (Inuk, Iqaluit), and I launched a project via Twitter to record the entire document on video, with the title #ReadTheTRCReport. One hundred and forty videos later, we completed the project. Each one was lovingly recorded by someone who lives on these lands — someone who lives with the legacy of residential schools, and with the responsibility to make sure these stories are not forgotten.

As the report summary was read aloud, I watched elders weeping and understood how many people waited their entire lives for it. Even more did not survive to see it. Residential school survivors and their families deserve closure, justice and hope. The TRC report is a definitive record of their experiences. It’s confirmation that yes, more than 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their homes, and yes, that is genocide.

Leaving the hotel, I thought this: Of 35 million Canadians, how many know there are more indigenous children currently in foster care than at the height of residential schools? How many falsely believe they are powerless to change the history currently being written by their government?

The report contains not only history and testimony, but recommendations calling Canadians to action. Number one on that list is the return of indigenous children to their cultures. For children to be safe in their communities, they need clean drinking water, equal funding for education, and freedom from poverty. By taking action for indigenous children now, we seek the justice that was denied to residential school attendees. By reading the report, we declare that to be indigenous is not only a story of tragedy, but one of hope.

Erica Violet Lee is studying philosophy and political studies at the University of Saskatchewan. She is a youth organizer in the Idle No More movement.

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