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TRC responds to Yukon's former students

Yukon Indian Residential School survivors will probably get an apology, but it is doubtful they will see any money.

Yukon Indian Residential School survivors will probably get an apology, but it is doubtful they will see any money.

The request for an apology and compensation was passed as a resolution at the Council of Yukon First Nations’ general assembly last week.

It came about a week after former Yukon residential school students were lodged in shabby accommodations during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s national northern event in Inuvik.

“We’ve become victims again,” said Kwanlin Dun citizen and former politician Judy Gingell. “And the sad part about it is those commissioners are our people. It’s so wrong.”

Most Yukon delegates were dropped off at the Aurora College student residence known as the “blueberry patch,” because of its blue paint.

The rooms were unsanitary and filled with mould, delegates told the assembly last week.

They referred to the residence as a condemned building and recounted elders having to climb stairs, share beds and “steal” food and coffee from the main event buildings to take back to their rooms like thieves.

It was as bad as going back to residential school, some delegates said.

“As executive director of the TRC, it’s upsetting to me that people had a bad experience when they were at the national event,” said Kimberly Murray. “I immediately did everything I could to accommodate them and respond to their requests and make them feel more comfortable. We did everything we could possibly do, given the limited accommodations that were available in the town.”

The event was held in Inuvik because of its central location for northern residential schools.

According to the national commission’s concept paper for the event, the Inuit, Inuvialuit and Gwitch’in specifically requested Inuvik as the location.

Yukon survivors suggested Whitehorse.

“They need to take into consideration, when they’re going to have these national events, do they have the proper accommodation?” said Gingell. “Can they house this kind of national event? If they had it in Whitehorse, I don’t think we would have gone through that again. But that’s not the case.”

More than 1,000 people gathered in the northern town that has a population of just a little over 3,000. There are only three hotels.

But the commission partnered with the host First Nations to find appropriate accommodations that ranged from camps, to billets to hotels, said Murray.

And a logistics committee made up of representatives of the host First Nations and the commission inspected the accommodations before the event began, she said.

The “blueberry patch” did not have amenities or linens, Murray admits, but towels, bedding and toilet paper were purchased and delivered as soon as they were made aware, she added.

“I met with them and I explained to them that the TRC is not responsible for accommodations and travel for survivors to the national event, but that I will take responsibility for trying to fix the situation,” she said.

The meeting took place on the second day of the four-day event.

A special sharing circle with the commission was offered for the Yukoners, but after the nearly three-hour meeting that offer was rejected, said Murray.

By this time, some Yukon delegates had already rented vehicles to head back to the Yukon.

Still, the commission scrounged up seven hotel rooms for the Yukoners. Only five were eventually taken, two remained empty.

While the Council of Yukon First Nations’ resolution hasn’t been formally delivered to the commission, news it was even drafted surprised Murray.

“I saw them throughout the event and chatted with them,” she said. “I thought that the issues had been resolved.”

The resolution “condemns, in the strongest terms, the unacceptable treatment by the TRC,” calls for a formal apology from the commissioners and requests funding from the commission so that former residential school students in the Yukon can go to the next national event to share their stories there, “in a safe and comfortable environment.”

Once the commissioners see it, there will be an appropriate response to it, said Murray.

“But we’re not a funding organization,” she said. “We don’t want to be in the business of picking which survivors come to which national events. And we don’t want to be in the business of booking planes and booking hotels. The TRC doesn’t pay to bring survivors to the national events.”

Yukon delegates pointed to the $60 million dollars the national commission was given to complete their mandate in five years.

“Sixty million dollars sounds like a lot of money, and it is,” said Murray. “But it’s not over five years with all the things we have to do in our mandate. And the northern event was the most expensive event we’re going to have. Also we’re not going to have the same challenges anywhere else in Canada.”

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada put up $400,000 and the churches raised another $100,000 for survivor travel and accommodations.

In the Yukon, the Council of Yukon First Nations was given money to give to the survivors they chose, said Murray.

The council had enough to get three citizens, from each Yukon First Nation, to Inuvik, it said.

And the council was asked before they went if the “blueberry patch” was OK,” said Murray. “And CYFN said, ‘Yes.’”

There is one final option, said Murray.

After the seven national events are finished, the commission is offering an application-based community event program where money will be made available for communities to put on their own event, however they see fit.

“There’s criteria, but I am sure they can meet it,” said Murray. “So that’s available to them.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at