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Canada''s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Indian Residential Schools: Non-Participating Survivor Perspectives and Reactions

Open Panel

Abstract

Recent empirical research in the field of “transitional justice” suggests that despite the growing popularity of truth commissions worldwide, purported as integral to address past harms, such processes may not necessarily be perceived as appropriate from the point of view of survivors. Indeed, Millar (2010) reveals that the “belief in victims’ ‘instinctive need to tell their stories’ reflects the assumptions of theorists and practitioners in the field, as opposed to the views of local people” (482). In particular, it has been found that truth commissions may re-traumatize survivors, place too much emphasis on victim rather than perpetrator “healing”, and fail to address survivor demands for reparations, restitution, and retributive justice. Furthermore, some have argued that TRCs tend to reflect Western perspectives on reconciliation and healing, without paying sufficient attention to the cultural context in which they are employed. Thus, with respect to Canada’s TRC for Indian Residential Schools (IRS), concerns have been raised over the potential for such a mechanism to adequately address the specific desires of IRS victims. Stemming from the assumption that not all survivors endorse the TRC as a suitable forum for addressing residential school abuses, this paper will reflect on non-participant survivor perceptions of and reactions to Canada’s TRC. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted with former IRS students engaged in active opposition to Canada’s TRC, it seeks to elucidate the various ways in which some survivors respond to what may be perceived as an imposed solution.