August 17, 2015

Although a national poll showed Canada appears divided on the value of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Catholic Church leaders said a positive impact has already been felt among Aboriginal communities.

"It was worthwhile for the native people in Canada," said Father Milton McWatch, pastor of Holy Saviour Parish in Marathon, Ont. His parish has extensive relations with local First Nations' communities.

"For the first time a lot of them were able to say, 'Hey, you know, that residential school was really awful.'

"That has already had an effect and it is going to change the lifestyle, the culture, of the native people."

McWatch said the TRC report gave a voice to thousands of residential school survivors by providing counselling and access to social workers during the years of the TRC hearings.

"They had lost all sense of who they were and I would say that they lost their ability to speak until the Truth and Reconciliation (Commission) came along," said McWatch.

"If that hadn't happened, they'd still be wondering 'Why am I so screwed up in life?'"

A recent Angus Reid survey found only 48 per cent of those polled felt the TRC was worthwhile for Canadians in general.

As well, 56 per cent were "moderately optimistic" that the process "will result in a better situation for Canada's Aboriginal people."

Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen said that's a pessimistic view that ignores much of the "healing" which has already occurred due to the commission.

"There were truths that needed to be spoken," he said.

The TRC was struck in 2008 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. After hearing testimony across Canada over the course of several years, the commission issued its summary report with 94 calls to action.

Bolen helped draft a formal apology from the Church to natives who had been through the residential schools.

"We hear from the indigenous people that it matters to tell their story and it matters to them to hear an apology."

Holding the TRC caused a cultural shift towards building a "strong relationship on the truth" with Canada's First Nations, Bolen said. "It was an invitation to change."