Native and non-native Canadians walked from Parliament and Dundas Streets to Queen’s Park to mark the close of the five-year inquiry of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada May 31. Photo by Michael Swan

Reconciliation walk marks end to Truth and Reconciliation Commission mandate

  • June 1, 2015

TORONTO - Close to 500 people, equal numbers of native and non-native Canadians, walked through a cold, constant rain in Toronto to urge reconciliation on Canada’s largest city.

The walk from Parliament and Dundas Streets to Queen’s Park May 31 was one of a half dozen across the country to mark the close of the five-year mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The TRC is due to issue its final report on Tuesday.

Catherine Brooks was one of many in the Toronto march who was walking for those who could not be there. Brooks held an embroidered shield made by her friend and fellow grandmother Linda McWatch, who was too ill to take part. The shield called for “a better world for your children and mine.”

But Brooks was also walking on behalf of her mother, who never spoke about her experience at the residential school in Spanish, Ont., until the night she died.

“The night she died she told me about that. She had to tell somebody,” said Brooks.

The walk began with prayer in the four cardinal directions offered by Cree elder Andrew Wesley. The prayer offered with sage incense asked for reconciliation for all people.

At the corner of Dundas and Yonge Streets the marchers paused to invite the crowd of onlookers to take part in a circle dance to the beat of drums.

Drum-2At one of Canada's busiest intersections, the marchers invited onlookers to participate in a circle dance to the beat of drums. (Photo by Michael Swan)

The $60-million commission has collected testimony from some 7,000 residential school survivors across Canada, documenting a dark chapter of Canadian history during which the federal government policy of assimilation was contracted out to churches running residential schools.

Though the system traced its roots back to the 1840s, it wasn’t until 1920 that the Indian Act was amended to make residential school compulsory for First Nations children between the ages of seven and 15. During the 1930s there were 70 residential schools operating across Canada. At its peak in the 1960s, the federal government was financing 130 schools, 60 per cent of them operated by Catholic religious orders or dioceses.

By the time the last one closed in 1996, about 150,000 aboriginal children had passed through the system.

BrooksCatherineCatherine Brooks walked on behalf of her mother who never spoke of her residential school experience until she died. (Photo by Michael Swan)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up as part of the government’s 2008 apology for the harm done to native children and communities. The government and various church entities have also contributed to a $1.9 billion compensation package available to former residential school students.

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