As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada  (TRC) concludes its mandate and submits its findings on Indian Residential Schools, the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation reflects on its relationship with this extraordinary undertaking and highlights the contributions of two Sauvé Fellows, Éloge Butera (2009-2010), and Jonathan Sas (2012-2013).

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was officially established on June 2, 2008, as negotiated by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, in order to shed light on Canada’s residential school system and begin a reconciliation process.

Over the past six years, the TRC has been investigating what occurred during the reign of Indian Residential schools, the extent of the damage for Indigenous Canadians and their culture, the strained relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Canadians, and how to build a stronger and healthier future for all Canadians.

As stated in the TRC’s Executive Summary:

“Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.”

In 2012, Commissioner Marie Wilson delivered the 2012 Jeanne Sauvé Address, Truth and Reconciliation in Canada: Lessons Learned from Canada’s Residential Schools Experience. Commissioner Wilson’s deeply moving talk was followed by a panel discussion among four Sauvé Fellows: Éloge Butera (2009-2010), Najme Kishani Farahani (2012-13), Tairah Firdous (2012-13) and Jonathan Sas (2012-13), and facilitated by Sauvé Program Director Simone Hanchet.

Following the talk and panel discussion, Jonathan Sas wrote a piece titled Uncomfortable truths: Dr. Marie Wilson on the history of residential schools in Canada.

Subsequently, on behalf of the 2012-2013 cohort, Sauvé Fellow Gerald Bareebe delivered the “Sauvé Scholars’ Public Statement of Solidarity With the First Nations Communities of Canada” to the TRC’s Quebec National Event on April 24th, 2013.

On the same day, Éloge Butera was inducted as an Honorary Witness by the TRC. He joined former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark, as well as several other public figures. This great honour involves taking on the responsibility to continue the work of the Commission at the conclusion of its official mandate.

On June 1, 2015, Sauvé Fellow Jonathan Sas was named an Honorary Witness. Other Honorary Witnesses include: Rt. Hon. Michaëlle Jean, Joseph Boyden, Sharon Johnston, Sylvia Smith, Cynthia Esquimaux, Canadians for a New Partnership (represented by Stephen Kakfwi), Marc Kielburger and Québec Native Women. The TRC has named about 80 honorary witnesses, both individuals and institutions.

On June 2, 2015, after six years of hearings and testimonies from 7,000 witnesses from  across the country, the TRC released its final report, including 94 recommendations for reconciliation.

In a op-ed for The Star, the three youngest honorary witnesses inducted over the Commission’s six years – Wab Kinew (descendant of residential school survivors), Sauvé Fellows Jonathan Sas (descendant of Holocaust survivors) and Éloge Butera (a survivor of the Rwandan genocide) –  wrote:

Our promise to the survivors is to carry forward their painful stories of enduring what was an attempt at cultural genocide, to preserve and spread their truth. Our promise is also to help all non-Indigenous Canadians draw the link between our colonial history and the daunting challenges of today, where racism and systemic discrimination against Aboriginal people persist. We commit to fulfilling these promises for the rest of our lives.

They then elaborated on the critical role of education in “shifting attitudes in non-Indigenous Canada”. Their message echoes that of the Right Honourable David Johnston, also an honorary witness. At the ceremonial closing of the TRC on June 3rd, Governor General Johnston called its closing an historic ‘opportunity’ — with education being the only way forward.

The Jeanne Sauvé Foundation will continue to proudly support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s  recommendations and our Fellows’ effort to further their implementation.

For more details on the TRC, see FAQs: Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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