Private sessions slated to gather residential school statements

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission returns to Whitehorse next week to give residential school survivors another chance to tell their stories.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission returns to Whitehorse next week to give residential school survivors another chance to tell their stories.

History books have recorded the century-long system of forced assimilation of aboriginal children. The churches that ran the schools have their own records.

But the national commission, set up by the Conservative government in 2008, is now documenting the stories of the students themselves.

Next week two statement gatherers – one from the Yukon and one from the Northwest Territories – will be at the Gold Rush Inn to document the stories individually.

“It’s continuing the process of statement gathering,” said Frank Hope, the commission’s regional liaison for the N.W.T. and the Yukon. “This approach, this turn around, is just doing strictly private statements, giving people the opportunity, that may have not have had an opportunity, while we were there.”

Last May the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held public hearings in Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Dawson City. But unlike those events, this time the sessions are private.

There will be no commissioner and no big gathering.

Instead, two private hotel rooms will be available for individual and private hearings. Survivors will have their statements recorded by video or audio. Support workers will be on hand during the sessions. They will provide participants with information for further aftercare as well.

“Sometimes when we share a story, maybe later on, maybe a few hours later or a day or two or a week, memories get triggered and memory recall comes up and you need to talk about it,” said Hope.

There are many different ways for people to tell their stories, he added.

The commission has already accepted written and material submissions, Hope said.

People interested in telling the story of their experience at residential or mission school can call the Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools or CAIRS to register for the private statement gathering.

Deciding to tell your story is not always a spur of the moment decision nor should it be, said Joanne Henry, CAIRS executive director.

“I really hope Yukon people take advantage of this,” she said. “I definitely think people need to tell their stories. Mind you, whether or not they want to is something I can’t answer. But for myself, personally, after I told my story it was a lot better. To hear me tell my story it said: ‘Yes. You did go to school and you came out of there.’ For myself, it was very, very good to get rid of all of that. It’s a lot of crap we’ve been packing for years.”

During the summer’s hearings in the territory, not everyone who was interested in telling their story got the chance to do so, said Henry.

While there were hearings at the commission’s northern national event in Inuvik last June, not many Yukon survivors had the chance to speak. Others didn’t feel comfortable because it was such a big, public event. Time limits also made speaking aloud more difficult. In the rush they sometimes forgot to include information they wanted documented, said Henry.

The benefit of the upcoming Whitehorse sessions is that they are private. People can book their time and speak for as long as they want. They’ll also be the opportunity to properly prepare themselves.

The original plan for the February hearing was to also offer training for statement gatherers. That training had to be postponed because of some technicalities, but Hope said it will be rescheduled. That will give the opportunity for more Yukon survivors to be able to give and gather statements and support other Yukoners in their healing journey.

In the meantime, this upcoming week in February is “but one activity of many more to come,” said Hope.

The commission is trying to be creative and flexible in giving as many survivors as possible the chance to share their stories.

This includes plans to hold hearings in retirement homes and prisons, if requested.

And while still in the process of securing funding, CAIRS in Whitehorse is busier than ever with community workshops, said Henry.

The drop-in centre for residential school survivors has even had to look for outside funding to be able to hire additional staff, she added.

People interested in telling their story to the commission in Whitehorse from Feb. 6 to 10 should call CAIRS at 867-667-2247.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at