Printer Friendly

Healing from the residential experience.

Beginning in the late 1800's, the Canadian Government, in partnership with various religious organizations, began to operate residential schools across Canada. Approximately 130 residential schools operated in territories and provinces across Canada with federal funding through to 1969. During this time approximately 150,000 Aboriginal children were forced to leave their families and communities to attend. The students were isolated from their parents, punished for speaking their mother tongue language, and for performing traditional cultural practices. It is estimated that 80,000 residential school survivors are still alive today.

In March 2011, a forum for the creation of a National Research Centre on Residential Schools in Canada was convened by the TRC in Vancouver to learn from similar initiatives in other parts of the world. Some 35 experts from around the world made presentations on experiences within their own countries. Over 400 people attended the forum and included Residential School survivors and representatives of the churches, government and academia.

The following summary notes are from Patrick Walsh, former Senior Advisor from the Timor-Leste Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CAVR):

My presentation addressed CAVR truth-seeking [in Timor-Leste] and the follow-up activities undertaken by Post-CAVR following the end of CAVR. I explained that, in taking statements on sensitive issues from victims usually more accustomed to oral processes, CAVR utilized comprehensive engagement processes and strategies including:

* Spending extended periods (3 months per sub-district) preparing local communities through lots of face-to-face meetings;

* Having the legal powers, credibility and broad-spectrum cooperation the Commission needed;

* Encouraging statement-givers to speak rather than write, use the language of their choice (including mother tongue), and recount their experience freely rather than respond to set questions in an interview format;

* Holding thematic national public hearings (live on media) at which representative victims testified; the objectives of these hearings were to honour victims and contribute to their healing, collect information and to publicise the negative impact on ordinary people of human rights violations and the need for accountability and rule of law to prevent recurrence and end impunity;

* Holding local public hearings at the conclusion of district statement-taking so that victims could share their experience and educate their communities;

* Facilitating local community mapping of violations to assist communities to address and understand patterns of violations and their collective impact;

* Taking statements from perpetrators and having perpetrators share these confessions directly with victims and the community through the CAVR-facilitated Community Reconciliation Process (CRP) also contributed to understanding and peace in Timor-Leste;

* Writing up the work, findings and recommendations for presentation to the State, victims, society and the international community;

* Establishing and nurturing links with key stakeholders, especially victims but also civil society, government and donors, without compromising the independence and credibility of the institution.

Points made about Timor-Leste's experience following the dissolution of CAVR included:

* The work is long-term and not amenable to a quick fix or short-term deadline; substantial follow-up to CAVR has been necessary in Timor-Leste and the process is now in its 11th year and its third phase (the Post-CAVR Technical Secretariat phase, previous phases being the CAVR design and establishment and operational phases), and the Parliament is considering legislation for a fourth phase (partial implementation of CAVR recommendations through the establishment of an Institute of Memory and reparations program);

* 'Socialising' or propagating the contents of the report within those sections of the community mainly responsible for the policies and practices at issue (Indonesia, in the case of the CAVR report, white Canada in the case of the TRC) is essential to foster mutual understanding, positive relationships, accountability and justice;

* Multiple strategies and creativity are required to make the truth commission report accessible and useful. In Timor-Leste, this has involved presenting the Chega! report in multiple languages and in summary, comic book, and exhibition formats. Companion videos (very popular amongst Timorese), handbooks, posters, a weekly radio program and reports on public hearings have also been produced in the Tetum national language and other languages. The report has been fairly widely distributed by the Post-CAVR Secretariat and NGOs with the assistance of government funding, but major social institutions such as the church and media have not contributed adequately and, to this point, few in Timor have read, debated or acted on it;

* Targeting youth by having the report officially endorsed and incorporated in the education system and taught in a range of subjects (history, civic education, legal studies, international relations, religion, politics etc); the Post-CAVR Secretariat has increasingly focussed on this objective which is imperative in Timor-Leste where over half the population are under 18 and will form the bulk of the population going forward; teacher notes/training will be required;

* Collecting, organising and archiving the primary material on which the report is based (statements from victims, testimony, interviews and research etc) is essential and has been a major undertaking of the Post-CAVR Secretariat. The archive is a significant contribution to historical research, criminal evidence, healing and memorialisation but archival legislation and access regulations (consistent with UN principles on the right to the truth and action against impunity) are needed if the archive is to contribute further to these goals. Experience in Timor-Leste in times of crisis has also demonstrated the importance of ensuring the security of the archives by backing-up and by storing copies of the archives off-shore;

* Creating and nurturing a sense of common cause/ ownership and collective responsibility for the report and process is vital; this has only been partially achieved in Timor-Leste and partly explains why the Parliament, despite the efforts of some MPs, feels no real pressure to act on the CAVR report which was delivered to it, at its request, over 5 years ago. Although the issues at stake (suffering, forgiveness, reconciliation, community, justice and peace) are central to its mission and it has been generally supportive, the church has failed to use its substantial popular and political influence and give much needed leadership on the issue.


I deeply appreciated the opportunity presented by the Forum to learn about the Residential Schools issue and to appreciate that, coming on top of their bitter experience of colonialism, it represented cultural genocide for many Aboriginals at the Forum. It was especially moving and enlightening to meet Aboriginal participants, to hear them describe their pain but self-identify as survivors (and witness the embodiment of this word in their grace and dignity), to hear native languages, and to get some feel for their spirituality and intense sense of the sacred in nature, which is both ancient and contemporary. As several speakers commented, re-writing this chapter will make Canada a better place and, one can add, a model for other societies with comparable backgrounds, including Australia.

(1) Part of a youth photography project "Through Our Eyes" organised by Christine Germano, Constant Arts Society
COPYRIGHT 2012 Pacific People's Partnership
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Walsh, Pat
Publication:Tok Blong Pasifik
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Previous Article:Indigenous world forum on water & peace.
Next Article:Te Tika a leader, visionary, true Cook islander: with excerpts from Rachael Reeves, Cook Islands News.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters