Justice Murray Sinclair listens to testimony at a hearing Tuesday morning.
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THUNDER BAY -- The head of the truth and reconciliation commission believes education is the key to a better relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.
The commission is holding hearings on the effects of residential schools not only on the estimated 80,000 survivors with which a common experience payment was settled in 2007, but any member of the public who wishes to speak.
Chair Justice Murray Sinclair said the commission wants to hear everything in an effort to commit the full impact of the 130-year-old black eye to the national memory.
“If we don’t’ do it as a commission then we will have failed,” Sinclair said in Thunder Bay Tuesday for two days of hearings.
Information from the hearings will help combat what was an aggressive suppression campaign from the Canadian government how people view First Nations people and how they view themselves Sinclair said.
Residential schools and the abuse that went on in them weren’t even discussed until recently.
“It was a deliberate act of censorship on the part of the government of Canada to ensure that much of that information never got out,” he said.
“All Canadians have been educated to believe that Aboriginal people are inferior are wild and savage and pagans. That they were lucky that Europeans came to this part of the world and saved them without in fact appreciating that Aboriginal people have lived in this part of the world for thousands upon thousands of years very well quite adequately without anyone coming to their assistance.”
Originally from Scotland, Yvonne Farquhar told the hearing the only things she knew about Aboriginal people came from museum exhibits or John Wayne movies until coming to Canada.
As manager of the J.J Kelso Centre, part of William W. Chreighton Youth Services, she has seen a lot in her 22 years there.
The centre holds 11 girls, virtually all Aboriginal, who have committed crimes that adults would receive at least five years in jail for. With almost every girl there’s a pattern of traumatic sexual or physical abuse and neglect, addiction issues and suicide attempts.
There’s also a history of foster homes, some girls going through 40 homes before ending up in her care Farquhar said. The girls are often very angry and have a total loss of identity. But they all share the same goal, wanting to get back to their community and family.
“They don’t know who they are,” she said.
Both of Patricia McGuire’s parents were residential school survivors. Their experiences were discussed openly. Her father went to school with Norval Morriseau and others who used their experiences to become activists and artists, showing strength and resilience.
“They took that experience and created beauty in the world,” she said.
As a professor at Confederation College, McGuire said it’s something she tries to do as well, saying educating the public about Aboriginal history is a sacred duty.
The hearing continues Wednesday at the DaVinci Centre.
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