KAMLOOPS - Justice Murray Sinclair led an emotional evening in Kamloops last night as he spoke of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings on Indian Residential Schools.
A Canadian judge and chair of the commission, Sinclair spoke to a packed house in the Grand Hall at Thompson Rivers University yesterday, Oct. 26. He said the overwhelming question was where do Canadians — both Aboriginal and non — go from here. What was imperative was that we reach these conclusions together, he said.
“We have to change how we speak to and about each other” Sinclair said, noting if we do, “This country will be a better place.”
Sinclair opened his talk by asking all residential school survivors to stand. The auditorium fell to a hush as roughly a tenth of those in attendance stood. Some faces appeared much younger than one might expect, only seeming to be in their mid-30s.
A short video played of the commission’s findings, including recounts from residential school survivors. Some recounted physical and sexual abuse, isolation, and fear and shame they felt for passing their burden on to their children.
“We fed our experiences to our children,” one survivor said.
The room was filled with a thick emotion and sobbing could often be heard. Children held their parents as their shoulders visibly shook under the weight of tears.
Survivors in attendance also recounted their own experiences.
“I don’t even know what happy Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is about,” Alexander Joseph said.
Joseph said he was taken away from his parents at the age of three. He had 17 brothers and sisters but barely knows any of them today.
Another survivor, who didn’t share his name, said after years of drug and alcohol abuse, many brushes with the law and much time in counselling, he has finally come to terms with what happened to him in the residential school.
“I forgave all my abusers. Today, I love my life.” he said, adding that he was recently 38 years sober.
The bulk of Murray’s presentation focused on the history of residential schools, why they came about and how and why they lasted as long as they did.
“I never knew any of this,” Murray said he commonly heard from others during the course of the commission.
He concluded the history by speaking about the future. Murray said by taking part tonight you bear witness to the past and it is now your responsibility to use what you’ve heard to create a new reality; a new future. This, he explained, is what is meant by reconciliation.
“You need to do something,” Murray said, directing his comments to young people in attendance.
He encouraged every young person to read at least the summary of the commission’s report, or go to YouTube to watch the entire report read by volunteers.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was officially established in 2008 to examine the legacy of Canadian residential schools. It spent the better part of a decade speaking to survivors and witnesses, chronicling abuses suffered and exploring how the schools destroyed Aboriginal culture, language and family relationships. The commission released a report in June 2015 with 94 recommendations for reconciliation.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Dana Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-819-6089. To contact an editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.