TRC report “a milestone,” national Inuit leader says
“Yes, cultural genocide, when you look at how children were forcibly taken away”
For the leader of Canada’s national Inuit organization, the June 2 release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s long-anticipated report on Aboriginal residential schools represents a milestone for thousands of Inuit residential school survivors
And Terry Audla, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said he agrees with Justice Murray Sinclair, the TRC chair, that the residential school system represented a form of cultural genocide.
In an interview June 1, Audla said the TRC’s findings and recommendations ought to help residential school survivors “move towards a healthier life and healthier families.”
And he said all Canadians need to learn the history of residential schools, which forms a large section of the TRC summary report released June 2.
“It was atrocious what happened. We need to take that lesson and use it to teach it to others about how to get beyond it and to work toward national understanding and reconciliation among all Canadians,” Audla said.
To that end, he said residential school history should be included in school curricula across Canada, to provide “education for all Canadians to make sure this never happens on Canadian soil again.”
He also said he agrees with Sinclair’s characterization of the residential school system as a form of cultural genocide.
“Yes, cultural genocide, when you look at how children were forcibly taken away and put into a residential school where they were physically, violently punished, confined for speaking their own language, physically abused, sexually abused, and then thousands of children dying of either tuberculosis and other transmittable diseases because of the poor conditions and the underfunded school system,” Audla said.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, in a speech given May 31 at Ottawa City Hall following the TRC’s Walk of Reconciliation, said she agrees with Beverly McLachlin, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who said last week that “cultural genocide” is an accurate description of what happened at Aboriginal residential schools in Canada.
In an interview May 30 on the CBC radio current affairs program, The House, Sinclair said that if Canada were to develop such a residential school system today, it could face prosecution under the 1948 United Nations convention on genocide.
That’s because of a provision in Article II of the UN convention prohibits the forcible transfer of children, Sinclair said.
And Audla points out that some residential students were used for unethical medical experiments in which they were denied food as part of an experiment by nutritionists.
“In some cases there was actual experimentation. I’d say it’s very accurate, the genocide aspect of it, because they tried to take away their indigenous culture. And if you didn’t comply, you paid for it,” Audla said.
ITK also issued a statement in support of residential school survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador, who were not included in the 2006 settlement agreement and who never received an apology.
The Nunatsiavut government was to hold walks for reconciliation in six communities June 3.
About 1,000 Labrador Inuit have five separate class-action suits against the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Moravian Mission and the International Grenfell Association.
The TRC released a summary of its report June 2, urging governments and others to accept its 94 recommendations. The full version will appear later this year, after its two million words are translated into various languages.