'A new beginning' National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation opens in Winnipeg
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, November 3, 2015 6:39PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 3, 2015 8:19PM EST
After a sacred fire was lit Tuesday at the unveiling of Canada’s new National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg, an eagle was spotted soaring overhead.
Carl Stone, the University of Manitoba’s elder-in-residence, called the sighting “a good sign (that) we’ll be well taken care of.”
The NCTR was built at the university to provide a permanent home for more than five million documents, including the stories that several thousand aboriginal people told to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as it prepared its report, a summary of which was released earlier this year.
The TRC documented a legacy of abuse and racism against aboriginal Canadians in a system of state-sponsored, church-run schools that the report’s authors said amounted to a policy of “cultural genocide.”
After attending the ceremony, TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair spoke to CTV Power Play host Don Martin about the purpose of the archive and research space, which he said will make sure the “full history of the schools will always be available to all Canadians.”
“If there were no place for the documents to be archived and for researchers to have access to them, and for the families of survivors to have access to them,” Sinclair said, “then within a very few generations people … who want to say that this never really happened … would be able to get away with it.”
Former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine spoke at the ceremony, too, which occurred 25 years after he first went on national television to talk about his own painful experience in a residential school.
In a particularly emotional moment, Fontaine asked his own children to forgive him for the intergenerational effects of the schools.
“Sadly for me, and more sadly for my son and daughter, they were part of the experience that I brought with me from my 10 years at residential school,” he said, according to the University of Manitoba News.
“That I would pain them in the way that I did, unfairly and unnecessarily so. I ask you to bear witness as I appeal to Mike and Maya for their forgiveness.”
Fontaine participated in a smudging ceremony and was given a gift of new moccasins that elder Stone said would help him “walk lighter.”
Survivor Eugene Arcand was among the hundreds in attendance Tuesday.
“When we start educating and providing some level of understanding to the next generation, this cycle can stop,” Arcand told CTV Winnipeg.
Current AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde took to Twitter Tuesday to call the opening of the NCTR a “new beginning,” adding that his “thoughts and prayers are with survivors of residential schools for their strength and courage.”
On Wednesday, more than 1,700 students and 350 teachers from across Manitoba will gather in Winnipeg for workshops on facilitating reconciliation.
The TRC’s summary report, released in June, documented a “a coherent policy to eliminate aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.”
The report concluded: "The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”
The TRC made 94 recommendations for reconciliation in its report. Justin Trudeau, who will be sworn in Wednesday as prime minister, has committed to implementing all of them.
With a report from CTV Winnipeg