The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission will host hearings in Thompson at Riverlodge Place at 351 Jasper Ave. Sept. 25 and 26, and at Sagkeeng First Nation Arena Multiplex Oct. 2 and 3.
The commission hearings at Riverlodge Place are scheduled for 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 25 and from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26.
The Keewatin Tribal Council (KTC) is co-hosting the two-day Thompson hearings along with the commission and will be providing transportation to Riverlodge Place from their head office location at 23 Nickel Rd. every hour.
The hearings will provide an opportunity for those affected by the school system and its legacy to share their experiences with an Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission commissioner: Marie Wilson in Thompson and Chief Wilton Littlechild at Sagkeeng, as well as with community members and anyone else who would like to learn about and bear witness to the schools' legacy.
While she grew up in Sarnia in Southern Ontario, Wilson, who lives in Yellowknife, is a well-known former CBC broadcast journalist and manager, who spent most of her career in the North, and is a member of the United Church. She served as CBC's senior manager for northern Quebec and the three northern territories of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.
Stephen Kakfwi, Wilson's husband, is Slavey, from Fort Good Hope in the Sahtu in the lower Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories, and is a former NWT premier, but who for the last decade has been best known as a singer-songwriter since he left territorial politics. Kakfwi is also a Roman Catholic residential school survivor, who went to schools in Yellowknife, Inuvik and Fort Smith, where he was brutalized by being whipped, starved, isolated and abused sexually, he has said. Off and on, Kakfwi spent seven years in residential schools.
The first Indian residential schools opened in the 1880s in western Canada and eventually, they operated in every province and territory except Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. The system was at its height in the 1920s with compulsory attendance under the Indian Act and over 80 schools in operation. Most Indian residential schools were run by entities of the Roman Catholic church, with others run by the Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and later the United churches.
Here in Northern Manitoba, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas was involved in four residential schools at Beauval, Sturgeon Landing, Guy Hill and Cross Lake. Through the Corporation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement (CCEPIRSS), created in 2006 to oversee the undertakings of the group of 54 Catholic dioceses and religious congregations under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas has been obliged since September 2007 to provide $1 million in cash over five years, $1.6 million of in-kind services and community work over 10 years, as well as support the fundraising Canada Wide Campaign (CWC).
The archdiocese has been meeting that obligation by paying out $200,000 a year since 2007. The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement ended litigation facing the federal government and the four churches that ran the schools, where rampant abuse occurred, for more than a century, and which former Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, who resigned for health reasons July 16, called, "a system that is now acknowledged as a flawed policy of colonization and assimilation."
In a Dec. 17, 2009 pastoral letter, Lavoie wrote: " We would encourage those from our archdiocese who attended the schools, or had family members and relatives who attended, to contribute to the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] process, so that the historical record can be accurate. Whereas over the past few years many held back from sharing positive experiences out of fear of being politically incorrect, now is the time to speak your truth so that it is heard and recorded."
The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in its current incarnation, has a five-year mandate and the current commissioners were appointed by the federal Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper through orders-in-council on June 9, 2009.
The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with a budget of $60 million, was originally established on June 1, 2008. Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Harry LaForme, a member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation in Southern Ontario, was appointed by the Harper government as the first commission chair, but resigned in October 2008. Claudette Dumont-Smith, of Gatineau, Que., a native health expert, and Jane Brewin Morley, of Victoria, a lawyer and public policy adviser, were also appointed originally as commissioners, but announced in January 2009 that they would resign, too, effective June 1, 2009, leading to the entire three-person commission to be replaced by the current commissioners.
A component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the commission is an independent body that oversees a process to provide former students and anyone who has been affected by the residential schools legacy, with an opportunity to share their individual experiences in a safe and culturally appropriate manner.
The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission is unique from other commissions around the world in that its scope is primarily focused on the experiences of children. Its focus of research spans more than 150 years, one of the longest durations ever examined.
It is also the first court-ordered truth commission to be established. As such, the court plays an ongoing role in the implementation and supervision of the commission.
Commissioner Wilton Littlechild, who will be at Sagkeeng First Nation Arena Multiplex Oct. 2 and 3, is a member of the Ermineskin Tribe Cree community, near Hobbema in central Alberta. He was the first Treaty First Nation person to acquire his law degree from the University of Alberta in 1976. His law firm is located on the Ermineskin reserve. He also served as a Progressive Conservative MP for the Alberta riding of Wetaskiwin from 1988 to 1993.
Commissioners Littlechild and Wilson comprise two-thirds of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Murray Sinclair, from near Selkirk, who was Manitoba's first aboriginal judge. Sinclair was appointed associate chief judge of the provincial court of Manitoba in March 1988 and elevated to the Court of Queen's Bench in January 2001.
Those who want to make a private statement to the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in either Thompson or Sagkeeng, will also be able to do so. These events are free to the public and "everyone is encouraged to attend," the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission says in a Sept. 20 media advisory. Program details will be posted at www.trc.ca, where the hearings will also be streamed live.