Truth, Reconciliation, and Reading: How to read the TRC and what to read next

For my international readers, and Canadians who’ve been under a rock for the past couple of years:

The TRC is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience. – Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Before I read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report (the 350ish pages of its executive summary, anyway,) I bounced back and forth between believing that:

  1. That this document wasn’t for me, because I wasn’t one of those racist people who needed to be convinced that Indian Residential Schools were horrific or that they have a lasting legacy.
  2. That the above belief is extremely naive and I would likely have to challenge some beliefs and/or confront some ugly truths, and maybe I’m not ready.

As usual, reality was somewhere in between. The TRC is for me, as much as it is for you (Canadian readers, or really, anyone who lives in a country that’s ever  been colonized.) There were plenty of things I already knew, but many I didn’t. Even if you’re familiar with the history, the first-hand stories are important to read, as are the calls to action, all 94 of them.

It helped that I found a reading group, which included an inter-generational survivor who was familiar with the report and its history. Most of you won’t have that much support, and this is a long, dense document, so here are some resources, tips, and recommendations for further reading.

How to read the TRC Report

  • If you’re not Indigenous, and think this isn’t for you, read this essay at 49th Shelf.
  • Choose your format:
  • Read it in chunks. Our reading group took months to read, just a section or two per week. The sections range from pretty dry descriptions of legal proceedings to heartbreaking first-hand accounts of abuse. Take a break when you need to.
  • Read it to the end. The calls to action are at the end, or you can read them separately here. You may feel hopeless that there’s so much to do, or inspired that there are so many places to begin, but this part is really important.
  • Talk to people. A buddy read, a reading group, an online chat… lots of possibilities. I was lucky to have a ready-made discussion group. If you can’t find someone to talk to in real life, try #TRC on twitter.

What to read next: non-fiction

theeducationofaugie threasonyouwalk upghostriver

What to read next: fiction

  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. I read this with a library book club where most of the participants are in their 60s or older. Many of them remembered residential schools as something that was known, but not known. They knew the schools existed, but not why, and certainly not what went on inside. An intense discussion ensued.
  • Rupert’s Land by Meredith Quartermain (my review) about a residential school runaway and his unlikely friend.
  • Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway, which I haven’t read, but has been recommended to me more than once.
  • King Leary by Paul Quarrington. This one’s more hockey than residential schools, but there is a compelling minor plot about a survivor.
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden and Black Robe by Brian Moore. These books are about first contact, but that history is important, too.  Many of us read Black Robe in school, and I hope The Orenda will replace it in the curriculum one day. Black Robe really emphasizes the colonial perspective and frames Aboriginal people as “other” while The Orenda is a more balanced  perspective.

Rupert's Land front coverindian horseorenda

Many thanks to tireless TRC reading group organizer Jane, and to advocate, TRC expert, book nerd, and all-around super star Miranda, for help with and inspiring this post.

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20 comments

  1. Naomi

    Great links and lists here – I’ll definitely be coming back to this post to keep reminding myself. A couple of books I’ve read recently that I can vouch for are The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (nonfiction) and Wake the Stone Man by Carol McDougall (fiction).
    All 3 of your nonfiction picks are on my list (but I don’t read a lot of nonfiction either, so it might take forever before they’re all read). And, I’ll be reading King Leary soon – when I get to letter ‘Q’. I was surprised to see it on your list.

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah King Leary is a bit of a wildcard… the “b” plot about the residential school survivor just really got to me, and this book was written before it was all over the media, so I found that interesting. It’s just a really great book too.

  2. ebookclassics

    Thank you for writing this great post and helping me understand what the TRC is all about and what a large number of books related to this subject are out there. I don’t think the TRC got much recognition in the media and many might not be aware there are these resources available to learn more about this part of Canadian history and how it still has an impact on people generations later.

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah, in Edmonton it gets a fair amount of media attention, because we have a large Indigenous population and our mayor is on board. But even with all that, I feel like I know so little, and don’t know where to begin… so this is where I began 🙂

  3. Elle

    Fab tips on reading a committee report–could have been useful when I was reading the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, back in the spring. I only hope that large publishing houses will start to publish more government committee reports, to make them more widely available. Being able to download is a great start, and having major houses backing paperback editions is the next step, I think.

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah, this does seem to be a new trend, doesn’t it? Reading this on a PDF was not the greatest experience, for obvious reasons, so more formats, sooner, is always good.

  4. roxannemfelix

    This is lovely Laura. A great contribution to how small actions can contribute to big movements 🙂 I am really inspired and pleased to see this. We might link your blog posting in our Centre for Race and Culture and newsletter if that’s ok.

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  7. Kristen Dixie

    I just discovered your blog and I am impressed with this post. I appreciate your time and commitment to helping us all better understand a devastating time in our (not so long ago) history. I look forward to slowly going through the post and reading suggestions and enlightening myself further on the details and, as you said, confronting my own perceptions and believes. Thanks again. I look forward to following your blog.

    • lauratfrey

      Thanks! There’s a lot to get through. The report it a really good place to start though. It’s written clearly and particularly if you read the beginning (lots of witness statements) and end (calls to action) it’ll give you a good primer.

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  9. Val Jobson

    Kiss of the Fur Queen is by Tomson Highway, not Thomas King, whose books are also great. Try Green Grass, Running Water.

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  11. Emma Norton

    Hi, thanks for writing this! I’d be interested to know how your Reading Group was organizing/facilitated, as I am about to start a TRC reading group with some colleagues. Any advice you could give would be fantastic.

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