Canadians must face the ugly truth of residential schools in order to heal from their past. To that end, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been travelling across Canada collecting personal stories of tragedy at the hands of the residential school system.
The first residential schools were established in the 1840s and for more than 100 years, attendance was compulsory by law for status Indians under 16 years of age.
Mortality rates ranged from 30 to 60 per cent and included epidemics of tuberculosis from poor living conditions, compulsory sterilization as well as nutritional and other experiments.
The last residential school closed in 1996. The trauma persists for many victims and their family members.
Post-secondary institutions in B.C. are encouraging students to connect with this shameful history.
On Wednesday, Thompson Rivers University’s aboriginal education department hosts survivors, educators and students of residential schools during a day-long event.
“We are hoping this event will make our community aware of the unspoken – and unwritten – chapter of Canada’s past,” said Nathan Matthew, executive director for TRU aboriginal education.
“But it’s also a celebration of the resiliency of aboriginal peoples during those bleak times.”
From 9:45 a.m. to 2 p.m., speakers will reveal personal experiences and outline the basis for Canada’s truth and reconciliation movement.
“Knowing the truth of our history is essential to reconciling what has happened to the aboriginal peoples and to establishing new relationships and building a brighter future,” said Alan Shaver, TRU president and vice-chancellor.
The event also includes a viewing of Fallen Feather, a film documentary of survivor testimonials and historic documents explaining why residential schools were created and the long-lasting negative impact on First Nations people.
Faculty and students are also encouraged to create opportunities in classrooms for awareness and engagement in reconciliation activities.
TRU is among several B.C. post-secondary institutions encouraging student engagement in the issue.
UBC is suspending classes on Wednesday in honour of events surrounding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s visit to Vancouver next week.
The university hopes it will engage “a lot of people” in the commission’s mission, said Linc Kesler, director of the First Nations House of Learning and senior adviser to the president of UBC on aboriginal affairs.