The residential school issue is not about making others feel bad or guilty. This issue is about truth and understanding. Truth and understanding are two key ingredients that will lead to healing and
. –Garnet Angeconeb, elder, residential school survivor, journalist
The 2007 agreement discussed in the previous chapter included setting up a
. What is a truth and reconciliation commission? What are its goals? Where does it fit into the bigger picture of helping a nation move from a state of conflict and injustice to one where the groups involved live more or less peacefully?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is part of a complicated series of reconciliation efforts. It is one of several tools in a process experts call transitional justice.
Transitional justice is a multifaceted process designed to help victims overcome historical injustice and trauma and reconcile with those who harmed them. Experts say that for transitional justice to work well, it has to include a version of these elements: truth discovery (what really happened?), justice (i.e., punishment for perpetrators, reparations for victims), and reconciliation. In Canada, as explored in the last chapter, the process also included apologies, which are a critical part of reconciliation: the perpetrators—in this case, the churches and the government—show remorse, and the victims can then forgive and begin to heal the relationship with them.
In addressing the question of justice, the
allotted monetary compensation to former students—referred to as
—of the residential schools. It set aside some $2 billion for about 86,000 surviving students (out of roughly 150,000 students altogether) who attended residential schools.
Each qualified person was to receive $10,000 for attending such a school, plus $3,000 for each year at the school (called the
In a separate process, called the
, each survivor’s testimony received a “score” from an adjudicating judge based on the abuse the survivor had endured, and the survivor would receive additional compensation. In addition, the agreement set aside $60 million for the truth and reconciliation process—the focus of this chapter.
The establishment and operation of truth and reconciliation commissions has become a commonplace practice since the 1970s. Most of the commissions that have been formed focus on crimes carried out by a government against its own citizens. Since the 1970s, there have been at least 40 such commissions, and some are still active today. They are often not a judicial tool or legal court but rather a way for perpetrators and victims to publicly acknowledge episodes of violence between them (systematic violation of human rights, ethnic cleansing, and
, for example). The primary goal of a truth and reconciliation commission is to help victims express their pain, find out exactly how the crimes committed against them or their loved ones were carried out, and receive the public’s recognition for past crimes. In some cases, victims are able to meet perpetrators face to face. The commission usually serves as a meeting place for former enemies to bridge the differences between them and find ways to move forward.
For the most part, these commissions are designed to bring about healing, a process that offers victims solace and reassurance that their trauma will not be repeated or forgotten.
The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission is unique in that it did not include any transformation in government (as was the case in South Africa). It is also unique in that it was funded by residential school survivors and included many traditional elements of
cultures. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused on victims and their experience; with a few exceptions, perpetrators did not take part in the efforts to uncover the truth about crimes committed in secrecy. The proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission consisted of numerous local and seven national events, in which people affected by the residential schools shared their experience in writing, in private testimonies, or in public. These events were open to everyone, since the goal was to educate the public about this painful history; some of the proceedings were streamed online or televised nationally. In 2014, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission finished collecting these testimonies, and its final report was published in 2015. The testimonies and all collected documents and artifacts are archived at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, housed at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and are available to the public for educational and research purposes.