Illustration by Yuta Onoda
For seven years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada — including Treaty 6 Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, ’67 BPE, ’75 MA, ’76 LLB, ’07 LLD (Honorary) — travelled the country listening to residential school survivors, sifting through historical documents and uncovering the facts. In 2015, the TRC released its final report, including 94 calls to action. The full report and other materials can be found at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website.
The TRC By the Numbers
students who attended residential schools in Canada
claims for injuries resulting from physical and sexual abuse at residential schools
reported deaths at residential schools
a truer estimate of how many children died at residential schools, according to Sen. Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC
statements from survivors of residential schools, members of their families and others who wanted to share information about the schools
pages in the final TRC report
Deaths at Residential Schools
The stories about children who died at residential schools are certainly the most difficult sections of the TRC findings. Here is some of what the commission discovered:
We Don’t Know How Many Children Died
Many residential school records have been destroyed. Where there are records, principals often reported the number of children who died but didn’t name them. Deaths were not always reported to federal and provincial authorities, meaning there is no way to know for sure how many children died. A 2015 statistical analysis by the TRC of existing records lists 3,201 reported deaths from 1867 to 2000. In nearly half the cases, no cause of death was listed.
Death Rates Were Much Higher Than for Other Children
From 1941 to 1945, children in residential schools were 4.9 times more likely to die than children attending other schools. Tuberculosis accounted for nearly half of recorded deaths. Even as late as the 1960s, the death rate was still double that of other children.
Many Bodies Never Made it Home
In many cases, schools denied parents’ requests to send the bodies home because it was deemed too expensive. Many of the children who died in residential schools were buried in plots far from their homes and marked only by plain white crosses.
Source: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, pages 92-103
A Call to Education
Below are a few of the more than 70 TRC calls to action related to education, directly or indirectly.
We call upon the federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.
We call upon the federal government to provide adequate funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education.
We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.
(ii) We call upon the federal, provincial and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with survivors, Aboriginal peoples and educators, to provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.
What Does the TRC Mean by ‘Cultural Genocide’?
“Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next. In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.”
Source: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, page 1