Local First Nation band had role in TRC report

Next steps are implementing recommendations, resolving day scholar class action suit

The Kamloops Indian Residential School closed in 1977. By 1979, only 15 residential schools remained open in Canada. The last federally-run school closed in 1996. (Jim Elliot/The Omega)

The Kamloops Indian Residential School closed in 1977. By 1979, only 15 residential schools remained open in Canada. The last federally-run school closed in 1996. (Jim Elliot/The Omega)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented its summary report in June after seven years of investigation and deliberation. The commission’s stated goal was to create “sincere indication and acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experi­enced by Aborigi­nal people and the need for continued healing.”

The commis­sion’s findings are especially relevant in Kamloops, both because of its large First Nations com­munity and be­cause it was home to one of Canada’s residential schools. The Kamloops Residential School operated from 1893 to 1977. The commission’s report states that what took place at residential schools “constituted an assault on Aboriginal children, families and culture.” The result, according to the commission, is intergenera­tional harm to the First Nations community and culture.

The Tk’emlúps band played an important role in helping the TRC reach its conclusion. In May 2013, commission chair Murray Sinclair held a hearing that gave residential school survivors and their families an opportunity to have their voices heard and their stories recorded.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is another step in the ongoing process of making amends. The government be­gan implementing a settlement agreement for residential school students in 2007, and Prime Min­ister Harper issued an official apology in 2008.

One score that has not been settled yet is that of the resi­dential school day scholars. Day scholars are the students who at­tended the residential schools but returned home to their families at night. On the heels of the TRC’s report, the Tk’emlúps, in partner­ship with the Sechelt band are launching a class action suit on behalf of residential school day scholars nationwide.

“The abuses suffered by day scholars were simi­lar enough to other residential school students that they also deserve com­pensation,” said Kamloops band councillor Katy Gottfriedson, the portfolio-holder for the day schol­ars’ suit.

Gottfriedson also said that the day scholars repre­sented by the suit also suffered the unique trauma of being resented by their peers who had to stay at the school over­night. Gottfriedson said that the TRC’s findings will be important to the lawsuit because their argu­ments will almost certainly incor­porate the commission’s findings.

All groups involved seem to agree that reconciliation and ed­ucation are priorities.

“The government has made strides recently by including an Aboriginal focus for K-12 curric­ulum. What the general public is not aware of is that the last fed­erally funded Residential School was in 1996,” said Bernard Gil­bert, Secwepemc Nation member and project manager professional student at TRU.

“During my undergrad studies I was oblivious to the impact of the aboriginal population eradi­cation. It was estimated that 90% of the aboriginal population was decimated post-colonial contact,” Gilbert said.

Along with better education about the history of First Nations people in Canada, many feel that efforts should be made to reclaim the cultural elements that were damaged by residential schools. First Nations graduate student Alexa Manuel summed up the importance of her family’s culture to her:

“I have heard many of my Ab­original peers and classmates throughout university lament their family’s loss of culture, and have witnessed the results of this loss,” she wrote via email.

“I was raised knowing both Syilx and St’at’imc cultures, as taught by my parents. I learned about ceremonial practices early in life … and carry a deep un­derstanding of their healing and teaching properties. I know what it is to be close to my culture, and it is difficult to imagine my life without it.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings will give national direction to the numer­ous local efforts to make amends for the horrors of the residential school system.