7 Nov 2010

Church-run Canadian residential schools denied human rights to all aboriginal children in their custody

Winnipeg Free Press - Canada September 21, 2009

Not all residential school survivors were victims of abuse: Sinclair

By Aldo Santin

WINNIPEG — Not all residential school survivors were victims of physical, sexual or psychological abuse but all them suffered as a result of that experience, the head of the Indian residential schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) said Monday.

"They were all abused by the institution and the system itself," Justice Murray Sinclair told a capacity crowd in a lecture theatre hall at the University of Winnipeg.

"The human rights of these children were taken away from them. They were punished by being placed in an institution."

Sinclair spent 45 minutes talking to a mixed crowd of students and members from the city’s aboriginal community, telling them about the mandate of the commission and what he and the other commissioners hoped to accomplish.

Sinclair was appointed chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission earlier this year after its first chairman quit in frustration and then the remaining commissioners resigned.

Ottawa appointed Sinclair, whose parents were residential school survivors, and two new commissioners to get the work of the commission back on track.

Sinclair is considered a perfect fit for the job. He was the country’s first Aboriginal judge and he was co-chair of the ground-breaking Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, which was appointed in the wake of the police killing of native leader J.J. Harper.

The commission will travel across the country, listing to residential school survivors talk about their experience in school and how it impacted their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Details on the commission is available on its website, www.trc-cvr.ca

Sinclair said the commission has a responsibility to create an accurate historical record and provide an opportunity to heal for those who participate.

A fallout from the residential school system is the cycle of violence that exists in aboriginal communities, Sinclair said, adding that one of the goals of the commission is to help the survivors learn to deal with their own past, to reconcile themselves with the pain they’ve caused to others as a result of the residential school experience.

"People need to be able to find peace within themselves and between each other and we need to help them find it."

Sinclair said that there have been 60 truth and reconciliation commissions around the world but added that what makes the TRC unique is that it was not created by Ottawa but established by the courts as a result of a settlement in the residential schools class action lawsuit.

The survivors agreed to use $60 million of the settlement funds, he said, to establish the commission so that all survivors would have an opportunity to relate their experiences to all Canadians.

"The government has taken the view that this is their commission but we’re constantly reminding them that this is survivor money," Sinclair said. "This is money that would have been paid directly to the survivors had they not agreed to put this amount of money aside ... for the commission."

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