REGINA — Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner (TRC) Marie Wilson reviewed the work of the TRC for the benefit of 150 who attended the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) conference held July 19 - 22 at Luther College, University of Regina. Conference attendees came from all over North America and many were not familiar with the commission’s work.
Wilson began her presentation by comparing experiences of students and staff from Luther College and those from students who attended residential schools. The Luther College quotes came from a Luther College magazine celebrating 100 years while the quotes from former residential school students came from testimonials delivered at TRC hearings across Canada. All described their experiences and the impact on their lives, but Luther quotes were positive while those from former residential school students were entirely negative.
“We don’t all have the same experiences,” said Wilson in her address.
She reviewed the purpose of the TRC and how it was established. “It was part of a court settlement,” she told the audience, “and it wasn’t so much about the money, it was an opportunity to speak and be heard about what happened to them” at residential schools.
Wilson said one of the problems the TRC encountered was in trying to find out what happened to children who died while at the schools. Many were buried in unmarked graves and records were hard to get.
“School records were poorly kept,” said Wilson.
One example was made available to delegates who opted to attend a visit to an unmarked cemetery that contains graves of children who attended the Regina Residential School. The school was located west of the city and the small, unkempt cemetery is located beside a grid road at the edge of the city limits. Ground radar confirmed a number of graves but only two contain small, almost buried headstones: they mark the graves of two children of a former director of the school. A small group of concerned citizens were able to locate records from the school but none identified any children who died there or what became of them.
One of the Calls for Action contained in the interim report of the commission released July 3 recommended that religious studies courses offered by public or denominational schools be a comparative studies course. “So children would be aware of other faith traditions and the legitimacy of those,” said Wilson.
Wilson said the TRC has called for a National Reconciliation Council that would monitor progress on the TRC recommendations. “It would be a watch dog and would make sure that those Calls for Action are being implemented and as a way of tracking if we are making progress.”