Representing History in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools

Ronald Niezen, Canada Research Chair in the Comparative Study of Indigenous Rights and Identity

The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada on Indian Residential Schools, released in December 2015, provides us with a reconsideration of the history of the state in the light of Survivor experience. The statements from former students offered in this context put into relief the suffering and memories of assault and torture of children. This has resulted in widespread recognition of the need for changes to Aboriginal policies and to institutional practices in such areas as child welfare and criminal justice. The weak mandate of the commission, however, favoured the expression of a certain type of voluntary testimony, thereby shaping the dominant narratives of trauma, institutional crime, and national history in a way that misinforms as much as it enlightens. This presents the challenge of how to effectively reveal the diversity and dynamics of the residential schools, the reasons for their establishment, the causes of the corruption of their goals, and the common features they might have with ongoing, enduring forms of abuse and institutional power.