The final national Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings have begun in Edmonton, where survivors of Canada’s residential schools will have a chance to tell their stories of abuse.

The four-day event started with an opening ceremony Thursday morning at Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre. Over the next few days, the commission will hear from those who’ve been affected by the residential school system. There will also be educational sessions for high school students and cultural performances.

“For me, it was part of genocide,” residential school survivor John Shirt told CTV Edmonton.  “It was killing me, my own nature and how I was brought up.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created as part of a compensation deal between the federal government, the Crown and residential school survivors. Over the past five years it has held hearings across the country, with a mandate “to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS).”

Beginning in the 19th century, about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their families and forced to attend government schools, where physical and emotional abuse was rampant. Many victims were sexually abused.

Edmund Metatawabin, 66, spent eight years at St. Anne’s in Ontario, one of the most notorious residential schools.

“Sexual abuse, that was non-stop,” he said. “Physical – anything that you can hurt a child, pull their hair, pinch their arm…”

An investigation of the school resulted in criminal convictions, and even though a judge ordered the release of the documents involved, Metatawabin is still waiting to see them.

Barbaranne Wright, the daughter of a residential school survivor, said Thursday that the effects of the abuse have been passed down through generations.

“It just doesn’t stop at the residential school survivor,” she told CTV at the opening ceremony in Edmonton. “It passes down because what he learned as a child, he passes on to his children.”

It’s estimated that there are still 12,000 residential school survivors living in Alberta, more than any other province.

The last residential school, located outside Regina, closed in 1996.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s previous national events were held in Winnipeg, Inuvik, Halifax, Saskatoon, Montreal, and Vancouver. 

With reports from CTV’s Alberta Bureau Chief Janet Dirks, CTV Edmonton and The Canadian Press