Anglican Primate Fred Hiltz (left), Catholic Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Inuit National President Terry Audla, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, Justice Murray Sinclair, and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston attend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's closing ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa June 3.

CNS PHOTO FROM REUTERS | BLAIR GABLE

Anglican Primate Fred Hiltz (left), Catholic Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Inuit National President Terry Audla, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, Justice Murray Sinclair, and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston attend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's closing ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa June 3.

June 15, 2015
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which used the term "cultural genocide" to describe the experience of Aboriginal people in residential schools, said reconciliation within the country "is going to take hard work."

In a 382-page summary report with 94 recommendations, the commission called for changes at all levels of society and government.

"Canadians must make a firm and lasting commitment to reconciliation to ensure that Canada is a country where our children and grandchildren can thrive," said the report issued June 2.

The commission was established under the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The schools were established and paid for by the Canadian government in the late 1800s, but were administered by organizations of several churches, including the Catholic Church, which ran about 60 per cent of them.

The commission sought to create a public record of the tragedy of Indian residential schools and to examine the ongoing fallout of a policy that separated 150,000 native children from their families.

By witnessing the stories of many of the 80,000 survivors and documenting the cultural and societal devastation to families torn apart, the commission said it hoped to cultivate reconciliation between Aboriginal people and the rest of Canada.

"Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group," said the commission's summary report.

"States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned.

"Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed.

"And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.

"In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things," it said.

The report documented incidents of abuse and neglect in the schools and published testimony from nationwide hearings it held. In some cases, it said, public officials and parents refused to return children to the schools.

Citing statistics from the TRC chairman, Justice Murray Sinclair, the CBC reported that the odds of students dying in residential schools – one in 25 – were about the same as that of Canadians dying in the Second World War – one in 26.

CIVILIZE AND CHRISTIANIZE

The commission's report called for changes in Canadian law and said: "In their mission to 'civilize' and Christianize, the school staff relied on corporal punishment to discipline their students. That punishment often crossed the line into physical abuse.

"Although it is employed much less frequently now, corporal punishment is still legally permissible in schools and elsewhere under Canadian law."

Its 94 recommendations covered a spectrum of Aboriginal rights, including those concerning health, education, languages, equity in the legal system and reconciliation. It also called for increased funding for substance abuse treatment.

KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER

Governments on all levels must ensure that Aboriginal families stay together as much as possible, the report said. It listed recommendations on foster care, culturally appropriate parenting programs for Aboriginal families and spending by child-welfare agencies.

Among its recommendations for changes to the Criminal Code were that trial judges, upon giving reasons, should be allowed to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for Aboriginal people.

Seventeen Catholic dioceses and 37 religious institutes involved in managing and operating the former Indian Residential Schools signed the 2007 settlement agreement, as did the Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches of Canada.

The report called upon those religious groups that had not already done so to "formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation."

In a section on the 15th-century Church-based Doctrine of Discovery, it discussed the complex role of religions in colonization and the idea that the lands being claimed were terra nullius – no man's land – and therefore open to claim.

The report noted that in 2010, the Vatican's representative to the United Nations indicated that "circumstances have changed so much that to attribute any juridical value to such a document seems completely out of place."

However, some felt those comments were insufficient repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

The commission said thousands of children "were subjected to spiritual, emotional, physical and sexual abuse in Catholic-run residential schools."

Other than a small private audience with Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, the Vatican has been silent on Catholic involvement in the Canadian residential schools.

"During the commission's hearings, many survivors told us that they knew that the pope had apologized to survivors of Catholic-run schools in Ireland. They wondered why no similar apology had been extended to them," it said.

The commission called on Pope Francis to apologize for the abuse inflicted in Catholic-run residential schools.

"We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this report and to be delivered by the pope in Canada."

AUSTRALIAN PRECEDENT

In Australia, where Aboriginal people were separated from their families, the children were raised at Church-run missions and sent into the workforce as farm labourers and domestic help.

Their stories of generational dislocation and loss were collected in a government-mandated report published in 1997.

At the Synod of Bishops for Oceania in 1998, Australia's bishops expressed their sorrow for the Church's past involvement in the destruction of the familial ties, languages and culture of Aboriginal people.

In 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to Aboriginal people for the "profound grief, suffering and loss" experienced by an estimated 50,000 indigenous people over 70 years of government assimilation policies.