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:
- 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.
- 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
- For non-fiction recommendations, check out the end of that essay I linked above, or, check out this list at the Edmonton Public Library.
- This essay at The Toast about missing and murdered Indigineous women and girls was a more challenging read than the TRC, in terms of having to interrogate my personal beliefs and biases. Brace yourself.
- My picks, none of which I’ve read yet (non-fiction not being my forte…)
- The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter
- Up Ghost River, by Edmund Metatawabin. Article includes an extensive Aboriginal reading list.
- The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew, about his father’s experience with residential school. I’m going to see Kinew speak in just a couple of days. I can’t wait.
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.