‘We must persevere’: Former chair of TRC says more programs, investigations needed into residential schools

Feds say communities will receive info today on how to access funds for identifying burial sites

Sinclair

Murray Sinclair, the former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) says the country must “persevere” and push ahead with locating graves on residential school grounds in Canada.

“I know this is a hard time. But we must persevere in our investigation that we must know what happened at these schools. We need to ensure that we put in place healing programs and foundations that will help survivors to gather and share their memories and stories,” Sinclair said in a video and written statement issued Tuesday evening.

Sinclair issued the statement in light of the confirmation of 215 graves located on the grounds of the former Kamloops residential school.

He said he thought he was prepared to hear the stories from schools from survivors — but said the stories “proved to be horrendous.

“One of the most common stories that we heard were from survivors who talked about the children who died in the schools and whose deaths they witnessed. Just as often, we heard about the loneliness and separation from their family – how they lost so much,” Sinclair said.

“One aspect of residential schools that really proved to be quite shocking to me personally, was the stories that we began to gather of the children who died in the schools. Of the children who died, sometimes deliberately, it was at the hands of others who were there, and in such large numbers.

“Survivors talked about children who suddenly went missing. Some talked about children who went missing into mass burial sites. Some survivors talked about infants who were born to young girls at the residential schools, infants who had been fathered by priests, were taken away from them and deliberately killed — sometimes thrown into furnaces, we were told.

Sinclair said when the commission asked if it could conduct a fuller inquiry to explore these stories, the request was denied.

“We asked the government to allow us to conduct a fuller inquiry to that part of the work of the TRC, to explore that on behalf of the survivors and Canadian public. We submitted a proposal, as it was not within the mandate of the TRC, and that request was denied. So largely we did what we could, but it was not anywhere near what we needed to investigate. Now we are seeing evidence of the large number of children who died,” he said.

He said the discovery in Kamloops, where a First Nation says the remains of 215 children were found, is evidence of the large number of children who died.


Read More: 

TRC Calls to Action

‘It was horrid’: Survivor tells APTN News about loss and fear at Kamloops residential school 

Discovery of Kamloops residential gravesite ‘like getting stabbed in the heart’


Sinclair said the survivors and intergenerational survivors need to understand that this information is important for all of Canada to appreciate the magnitude of the truth of this experience.

“Since the revelation of what has happened at Kamloops has come to light, I have been inundated with calls from survivors. Hundreds of calls, often just to cry.

“I can hear not only the pain and the anguish, but also the anger that no one believed the stories they had told. I can also hear their sense that they have lost some hope that maybe those children that hadn’t returned might still be found. They now know that may not happen.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission operated between 2008 and 2015 and provided Indigenous people directly or indirectly affected by the residential school system with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

Sinclair said people in this country need to be prepared for the discovery of more graves at the former schools.

“We know there are lots of sites similar to Kamloops that are going to come to light in the future. We need to begin to prepare ourselves for that,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said Ottawa will be making $27 million, which was budgeted for in 2019, immediately available to communities who wish to work on identifying, commemorating and memorializing residential school grave sites.

“We  will be there to support every community that wants to do this work,” she told reporters during a press conference. “Communities will receive information today to access the funding which will be distributed on an urgent basis.”

Bennett said the work must be Indigenous led, community based, survivor centric and culturally sensitive, but was unable to provide more details about Ottawa’s plans.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said people should be wary of the feds making a “grand pronouncement” right now while communities are grieving. He said many may be wary of a top-down approach, especially where sensitive burial sites are concerned.

“I’m not Indigenous. I know how my ancestors died. I know where they’re buried. But consider a second if I heard something about a government organization coming in and surveying, however invasive it is,” he said.

“We have to consider the needs of the communities and the needs of their members.”


Read Murray Sinclair’s full statement here:

sinclair


I wanted to take the opportunity to speak to you regarding the situation that has come to the public’s eye about the discovery of bodies at the residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada.

When I was asked to chair the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, I thought that I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Discovering what was going on in the schools, I thought, would be accomplished by listening to what the survivors told us and recording their stories. I undertook that part of the work openly and willingly, with what I thought was a good understanding of what they were going to tell us.

But the stories from the survivors proved to be horrendous. One of the most common stories that we heard were from survivors who talked about the children who died in the schools and whose deaths they witnessed. Just as often, we heard about the loneliness and separation from their family – how they lost so much.

One aspect of residential schools that really proved to be quite shocking to me personally, was the stories that we began to gather of the children who died in the schools. Of the children who died, sometimes deliberately, it was at the hands of others who were there, and in such large numbers.

Survivors talked about children who suddenly went missing. Some talked about children who went missing into mass burial sites. Some survivors talked about infants who were born to young girls at the residential schools, infants who had been fathered by priests, were taken away from them and deliberately killed – sometimes thrown into furnaces, we were told.

We had no expectation that this would be a part of the work we were doing. We asked the government to allow us to conduct a fuller inquiry to that part of the work of the TRC, to explore that on behalf of the survivors and Canadian public. We submitted a proposal, as it was not within the mandate of the TRC, and that request was denied. So largely we did what we could, but it was not anywhere near what we needed to investigate. Now we are seeing evidence of the large number of children who died.

We know there are lots of sites similar to Kamloops that are going to come to light in the future. We need to begin to prepare ourselves for that.

Those that are survivors and intergenerational survivors need to understand that this information is important for all of Canada to understand the magnitude of the truth of this experience.

Since the revelation of what has happened at Kamloops has come to light, I have been inundated with calls from Survivors. Hundreds of calls, often just to cry. I can hear not only the pain and the anguish, but also the anger that no one believed the stories they had told. I can also hear their sense that they have lost some hope that maybe those children that hadn’t returned might still be found. They now know that may not happen.

My heart goes out to the Survivors, the children and families of Survivors who never made it back. I know this is a hard time. But we must persevere in our investigation that we must know what happened at these schools. We need to ensure that we put in place healing programs and foundations that will help survivors to gather and share their memories and stories.

I pray for you all and hope that you can find a way to continue on in a good and healthy way.

Miigwech.