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Final Native boarding school healing event in Canada, US effort planned

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is in Whitehorse this week to hear from people about their experience in residential schools.

The meeting began Monday with the lighting of a sacred fire which will burn throughout the two-day event. Former residential school students, elders and dignitaries packed the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre for opening remarks.

Justice Murrray Sinclair, head of the commission, said the children and grandchildren of former students have also suffered the effects of residential schools.

The residential school system in Canada existed for almost 100 years. In all, about 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools.

Justice Sinclair said today's youth are searching for their identity and self-respect and they can play a role by taking part in the commission's hearings.

"Aboriginal young people in particular are showing the way by standing up and saying 'we're not going to take it anymore," he said.
"'We need to know who we are. We want to know who we are and we demand that we be respected.' And the question is whether Canada is ready for that."

Kwanlin Dun Chief Rick O'Brien is a former residential school student and says aboriginal people are regaining their pride and identity.

"We all know this part of our history is hard, but we cannot let this hold us back," he said. "We must move forward."

Alaskan rep meets with commission

Andrea Carmen from Palmer, Alaska, met with the TRC in Whitehorse on behalf of the U.S.'s National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, which hopes to learn from the Canadian experience.

She said TRC commissioners extended the invitation for her to take part.

"We had a very good meeting with the three commissioners," she said. "They took several hours with us to talk about some things that could be similar, some things that are really different in the U.S. process but all of that we are going to be taking back to the members of our coalition, and our board and move towards some form of a commission or hearings or truth and reconciliation process in the United States."

Public and private testimony will take place Tuesday at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. Sessions are open to the public and the commission is also streaming the event live on its website.

This is the last event the commission will hold in the North, but former students can still request to give private statements to the commission.

For more information about Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, visit CBC's special report "Stolen Children."

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.