The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is coming to Vancouver Island in the new year and Port Alberni will be one of its four stops.
Aboriginal, commission, and Victoria municipal officials made the announcement in the province’s capital city on Tuesday.
“The Regional Hearings on Vancouver Island are just four of many that are happening throughout Canada leading up to national events,” commission chair Murray Sinclair said in a news release.
“The smaller hearings give survivors who may not be able to attend a national event a chance to still share their story. Each story has its own truth to it.”
Commission officials are coming to Port Alberni on March 12-13 after making stops in Port Hardy and Campbell River. The venues in Alberni will be announced later.
The commission will go on to Cowichan then wrap up with a regional event in Victoria in April.
The commission is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. It has a five-year mandate and a $60-million budget.
The commission is gathering information about residential schools and documenting testimony from survivors and families about their experiences in them in an effort to create a permanent public record about the schools’ legacy.
There were five schools located on Vancouver Island at one time, including one in Port Alberni and one in Tofino, in Nuu-chah-nulth territory.
“They’ve had a whole country to cover over three years and I’m glad they’re coming here now,” Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Cliff Atleo said.
The commission’s two-day session in Port Alberni is for individuals to give testimony about their residential school experience and not for organizations. Atleo, who is a residential school survivor, won’t rule out giving testimony of his own. “It’s something I’ll be thinking about,” he said.
Atleo wouldn’t venture to guess how many aboriginal people would give testimony to the commission in March. But the commission estimates that there are more than 2,000 survivors on Vancouver Island.
The federal government has given an apology for residential schools, and there has been financial restitution for survivors who applied, yet the experience still resonates.
Money can’t buy everything, Atleo said. “It can’t fill the holes the schools created in our language, culture and traditional knowledge,” he said. “Our whole way of life was disrupted.
“Even today there are still people who aren’t able to deal with their experience,” he said.
The schools’ dark past has long stained the country’s conscience but Atleo says he still encounters deniers of what happened. The commission’s work “won’t do away with the subtle racism our people live with, but it will help,” Atleo said.
A final report of the commission’s findings and efforts will be assembled then released in 2014.