The Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s tour of northern communities ended in Whitehorse last week.
Up next is the second of seven national events.
It will be held in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.
Jessie Dawson, a councillor for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, attended the first national event in Winnipeg.
“It was an anxious experience for me,” said Dawson. “It was huge. I think they didn’t even anticipate it to be as big as it turned out to be.”
The size was problematic because organizers couldn’t support everyone who attended, she said.
Sharing and recording survivors’ side of the residential school story is the main focus of both the community visits and the national events.
Set up like a public hearing, the events are based around survivors standing up to say what they experienced and how it has, and continues to affect them.
Opening up about such a dark history, usually rife with sexual, physical and mental abuse, feelings of abandonment and aversion to one’s own culture and skin colour, can leave people in worse condition then what they went in.
Dawson hasn’t stood up to tell her story yet.
“I’m not ready,” she said. “It’s a real large experience for someone to stand up and say, ‘These things happened to me,’ and acknowledge it. I think it’s more or less the point of accepting and letting go.
“That’s what we need to do, start moving forward for the sake of our children – our next generation.”
Unlike the community gatherings, the national events have an undeniable goal of celebrating aboriginal culture and moving on in reconciliation.
For example, there will be a main performance stage in Inuvik from June 28 to July 1, as well as sharing circles, educational events and programming for youth.
In November, the commissioners of the committee promised leadership of the Council of Yukon First Nations that because they were in the “catchment area” for the Inuvik event, Yukon survivors could receive money to help them attend, said Grand Chief Ruth Massie.
After two proposals, that funding has still not come through, she said.
So far, only partial funding is being provided to three people from each community.
“They request that we billet our former students in Inuvik,” she said. “They want them to stay with strangers? That’s like putting them back into residential school.”
The communities are being tasked with providing the majority of the funding for their citizens – expenses that should be covered by Ottawa, said Massie.
She has written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to address these concerns.
The Council of Yukon First Nations only has enough money to send their small contingent of resolution health support workers, to help provide support for the survivors that do make it to Inuvik, Massie told the people who gathered at Kwanlin Dun’s potlatch house last week.
But for survivors who hope to attend, she only offered an apology.
Healing is an individual thing and some people feel attending the national event will help them, she said.
“Our job is to meet the needs of students,” she said. “The TRC has been very disorganized and resources are being spent in the wrong places. Where are the benefits for the students? The Canadian government needs to rethink what they are doing this for and who they are doing this for.”
After Massie spoke, commissioner Marie Wilson addressed the gathering.
She mentioned national events were never intended to accommodate everyone, adding a quip about the size of Inuvik and it’s accommodation capacity.
“These community hearings that we are holding, and have been holding for almost three months now, in a way they serve the purpose of bringing the TRC to you, to those of you who will not be able to go to a national event,” she said. “There are only seven national events for 13 regions.”
The national commission is also tasked with establishing a national research centre within their five-year mandate.
It’s purpose is like that of a museum, to house the stories and archives the commission has collected, and offer a place to share them with the public.
It hasn’t been confirmed where that centre will be put, but there should be one in each region, said Dawson.
She also hopes she’ll be able to make it to Inuvik.
The commission will be better prepared then they were in Winnipeg, she said.
The benefits of sharing this history with the broader Canadian public is too important to stay quiet any longer, she added.
“For me, the goal is acknowledgement,” she said. “Acknowledgement from the people that put up these institutions, the people that felt that this needed to be done.
“We had our own culture. We had our own way of life, we had our own religion and our own beliefs. And to think that we need to be different and, sure, they said that we needed to be educated but it was the process with how we were educated is why we are here today.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at firstname.lastname@example.org