The Failures of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Process

by Doug George-Kanentiio
- Akwesasne Mohawk -

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that $60,000,000 effort designed to address the “cultural genocide” we, the former ‘inmates’ of the residential schools experienced is a failure.

Since it began operations in 2008 the Commission has crossed Canada, heard the testimony of 6,500 people and published two volumes of its findings. It has made recommendations and is now an entrenched part of the federal bureaucracy. Its representatives continue to make appearances and have job security doing so. These individuals, however well meaning, are riding the wave of our suffering, just as those legal vultures who hover over us, waiting for the chance to pick our bones for their own profit.

I maintain the Truth and Reconciliation process is not only ineffective but harmful to we who had to endure so others may exploit.

To begin with not one of the former residential school inmates at Akwesasne has ever been asked our opinions as to what serves us best in providing adequate compensation or how to use our life experiences in positive ways. We have never been asked to come together as a group and design a plan to make this evasive “healing” actually take form. We have never been asked to speak to our own people about what happened to us. We have never been asked by any school to talk about how and why this happened. We have never been given the chance to tell our stories before any public forum. No member of any band council has sought us out and recorded those events.

It seems to us that a lot of noise is made about the residential school era but nothing of substance, nothing to tell these sordid stories while we are alive and certainly after we are dead. The horrors of that time are catching up to us, the damages done to our bodies and spirit is taking over and cutting our time short on this earth, in this time.

We did have a meeting with Ontario’s former minister of Indigenous Affairs David Zimmer in February of 2018. He was most kind and receptive. For the first time we were able to present a Canadian government with a list of 8 items we wanted done, things unfiltered by bureaucrats, politicians or lawyers. As we told Minister Zimmer “Nothing For Us Without Us”.

We did have a meeting with Ontario’s former minister of Indigenous Affairs David Zimmer in February of 2018. He was most kind and receptive. For the first time we were able to present a Canadian government with a list of 8 items we wanted done, things unfiltered by bureaucrats, politicians or lawyers. As we told Minister Zimmer “Nothing For Us Without Us”.  

Among those items was the construction of a National Residential School museum-archives on Akwesasne territory as our community was completely shut out and ignored by the federal and provincial governments in their dispersal of funds for residential school victim programs. We had never been consulted by the formal truth and Reconciliation Commission and no hearings were held anywhere in Mohawk territory.

We wanted a reasonable pension, an archives to preserve our stories, a hall where we could tell our stories, an exhibition place to show the photographs of the children and other items which are vital to truly understanding what happened at the Institute-the straps, the urine soaked mattresses, the broken toys hidden in the dorm walls. We wanted a permanent group of victims to come up with other ideas and to monitor any and all actions involving the provincial government and the residential school related activities.

Again, nothing for us without us.

We were emphatic that the T and R process itself was ineffective for a number of reasons beginning with the lack of consultation with us but equally as bad was the refusal of the Commission to provide us with an opportunity to question our abusers, to confront them and demand to know why they engaged in those terrible acts of physical and emotional depravity.  How, we asked, was this evasive healing even possible without having the guilty, the rapists, the punishers, brought to justice or even to a place where they conceded that what they did was wrong?

In all of those bitter months as an inmate at the Mohawk Institute (located on Six Nations land in Brantford, Ontario) no Native official of any kind bothered to investigate our situation.

It failed because it left out the active participation of the band councils in removing the children from their homes. No Native person, then in authority, has ever been questioned about why they went along with these removals or why they never, to my knowledge, asked what was being done to the children in those schools. In all of those bitter months as an inmate at the Mohawk Institute (located on Six Nations land in Brantford, Ontario) no Native official of any kind bothered to investigate our situation.

The Cree and Mohawk boys and girls would sit near the windows looking down that manicured driveway for some adult to come to our aide yet no one did. The last we saw of the band councils was there hiring of someone to place us on those trains and expect us, as ten year olds, to find our way 350 miles from home to the Institute.

We wanted to know why the Commission did not hold Native officials culpable. Given our history as leaders in the Native right movement and our reputation as fighters it was disturbing to us that the Mohawk people, the chiefs and others, did nothing to stand in defence of their children, that which is most sacred to any community.

We wanted, and still want, to know why.

We also need an explanation as to the compensation paid by the federal government. Each former “student” was sent into a hearing process in which money was paid if we could prove specific acts of abuse. It was strongly suggested we hire lawyers. These vultures took a percentage of whatever the victim was given in addition to a guaranteed payout by the government. What was terrible about this was it was an adversarial method. We had to prove our claims. And for that we had to have records.

How many children are expected to keep detailed reports as to the precise time and location, along with witnesses, of a beating or a rape?

How many children are expected to keep detailed reports as to the precise time and location, along with witnesses, of a beating or a rape? In all of my time at the Institute I never saw a doctor or had access to a social worker or a cop. Making this worse, I was denied access to my school records which might have assisted in my memory.  I gave testimony about beatings and hunger, of the ongoing climate of fear and terror as children around were selected for rapes yet because I was not a drunk, living in the gutter or a sociopath my claim, like so many others, was rejected. I could not “prove” any of my claims in accordance with Canadian jurisprudence.

So it went for most of us.

Systems, methods, programs were set into place by the Truth and Reconciliation organizers without speaking to any Mohawk that I know and certainly not myself or my brothers.

So now we enter our elder years with despair, once again victims. Much has been said and written regarding the residential school era and the profoundly negative consequences on every instance of Native life in Canada.

To date, nothing has been done with us but to us. It leaves us feeling that we are now as we were then.

The dregs of the nation.


 

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