As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada hears from former residential-school students at its B.C. event this week, one aspect of the commission’s work is taking centre stage.
According to commissioner Marie Wilson, education is a “huge part” of the TRC’s work. The four-day event being held in Vancouver from today (September 18) to Saturday (September 21) to inform the public about residential schools and their legacy includes an education day expected to draw about 5,000 students.
But with the commission’s five-year mandate set to wrap up next year, Wilson is also urging that changes be made to ensure that more people learn about the history of aboriginal people in Canada. She noted that the TRC has issued a challenge to make curriculum about residential schools and indigenous history mandatory. So far, she said, only the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have required this.
“We can’t change the history, no matter how creepy or shameful it makes us feel about things that have happened; even though we weren’t born then, most of us, we inherit that, just as we inherit the good things about our country,” Wilson told the Straight.
“But the question is, what can we change now?…And certainly, what we feed our children, what we feed their minds about the people who live here, is one thing that we absolutely can change, should change, and must change if we want to start with building a new generation of mutual respect and mutual understanding.”
Wilson said she hopes to see parents engage their school boards and politicians on the issue.
“I would like voters to make that a platform issue so that when people are running for office, they’re expected to do something about these things,” she stated.
The commissioner added that education on the issue of residential schools takes place on "many, many levels".
“How big a job has the federal government done in educating its constituents…the people of Canada? Have we yet had the War of 1812 campaign educating us all about the history of residential schools in Canada? I don’t think so.”
The TRC has collected testimonies across Canada from former residential school studenets. An estimated 150,000 aboriginal peoples were required to attend the government-funded, church-run schools, where thousands faced physical, sexual or emotional abuse.