The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement

Ray Jones, “Bella Coola matrons,” from the United Church of Canada Pacific Mountain Region Archives (BCCA-2797.4)

Survivors across Canada started to gather through the mid-1980s and early 1990s to form class action law suits and seek compensation for the abuses they experienced at Residential School. Groups of Survivors formed together to provide support, healing and promote legal action. Public and media attention grew in the 1990s following a public statement from Phil Fontaine, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in October 1990.

Following Fontaine’s public statement and the resistance and events around Oka in 1990, the government of Canada responded in part by initiating the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The Commission was established in 1991 and held hearings across Canada with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and individuals. A key finding arising from the Royal Commission focused on the histories of Residential Schools in Canada. In 1998 the government of Canada responded to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples with the creation of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The Healing Foundation provided community-based and Survivor-focused healing projects across Canada and built a foundation for healing support and research based on community needs and the legacies of residential schools.

The Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada was created in 2001 to manage and resolve the large number of abuse claims filed by former students against the federal government, also known as the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process. In May 2006, the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) was approved. One of the key components of this agreement was the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

Following a public apology by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008, the TRC held national and regional gatherings across Canada listening to Survivors, community members and leaders to share truths and work towards facing impacts of colonialism in Canada. The TRC operated between 2009 and 2015, and gathered testimony from more than 7,000 people. 

When the TRC’s summary report was published in June 2015, it documented a devastating history of abuse and neglect of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children. Non-Indigenous Canadians were confronted with a stark reality of the nation’s history as experienced by Indigenous Peoples. It provided not only a sobering look at Canada’s history, but a meaningful context for the reality many Indigenous people face today, and for the complicated relationships between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Even after the work of the TRC, too many Canadians remain unaware of this history and its lasting effects. With no widely shared understanding of the circumstances that have shaped Indigenous experiences in Canada or the actions taken by Canadian institutions, we are unable to understand each other or begin to talk from a common understanding. Yet the issues we must navigate are critical to our common future. To respond to the need for more informed understandings, UBC established the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC).

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