Re-Storying Canada's Past: A Case Study in the Significance of Narratives in Healing Intractable Conflict

March, 2009
This piece was written while the author was completing a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


On June 1, 2008 a court-mandated Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) came into effect in Canada. Born of a vision to "write the 'missing chapter' in Canada's history,"[1] the TRC was tasked with, among other things, establishing an historical record and promoting awareness of the treatment of Aboriginal peoples in Indian Residential schools (IRS), and providing a space in which to bear witness to the truth, effects, and on-going legacies of IRS.[2] One week later, another historic event occurred. To an audience of former IRS students seated in a circle on the floor of the House of Commons — and national television broadcast viewers across the country — Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the leaders of the three opposition parties apologized for the treatment of Aboriginal peoples by previous Canadian governments.[3]

As transitional justice mechanisms elsewhere, the Government's apology and the creation of the TRC are two examples of the uses and centrality of truth-telling and narrative in responding to past injustices. The precise role that truth-telling plays in peacebuilding, however, remains under-studied,[4] and the field of conflict resolution as a whole lacks a "...real tradition of frameworks that address the deepest questions of collective story, identity and place."[5] In Canada, the issue of truth-telling and story has taken centre stage, making this case a compelling example of the significance of narratives in both perpetuating and healing intractable conflict. Due to the nature of the past that needs to be healed in this case — centuries of colonization, cultural genocide, continued marginalization — and the way in which the standard narrative of Canadian history has silenced Aboriginal voices, the use of truth-telling and other narratives in peacebuilding, and the need to "re-story" the past is particularly pronounced. Furthermore, as Aboriginal cultures in Canada have a long and rich history of oral story-telling, this case provides a compelling example of the multi-faceted use of narratives to heal the past and construct a better future.

In this essay, then, I seek to explore the role of narratives in the perpetuation of conflict between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada, and the subsequent use of truth-telling and "re-storying" in emerging efforts to heal this broken relationship. After a brief historical overview of the nature of the conflict, I discuss the significance and multiple implications of different narratives in settings of intractable conflict, including: the use of "dangerous" stories to justify the subjugation and marginalization of Aboriginal peoples; implications of "silenced" and "broken" stories; and the way in which stories have passed the experience of suffering and victimhood across generations. I then discuss the challenges and potential of accounting for narratives in healing the past, and give an overview of some significant events in the last few decades that have resulted in venues in which alternative stories have begun to emerge, and Aboriginal peoples have been re-claiming their voices. Through this, I show how "re-storying" Canada's past on a number of different levels is contributing to healing the long-broken relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada.

Historic Overview

The broken relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada can be traced to the arrival of Europeans on the continent in the late 15th century.[6] Over the coming centuries, the way of life Aboriginals had lived prior to European contact was profoundly disrupted and altered by different waves of colonization.[7] Wesley-Esquiaux and Smolewski identify three waves of colonization that had grave physical, economic, cultural, social and psychological impact. First, early explorers and fur traders brought with them infectious diseases that decimated the Indigenous people across the continent, and an increasing number of settlers led to periodic warfare and large-scale displacement from their land.[8] Second, this physical loss of life and dispossession of land was later accompanied by cultural dispossession as the arrival of Christian missionaries "[brought] about religious transformation and cultural destruction through prohibitions imposed on Aboriginal culture and belief systems."[9] During this period, the development of more permanent colonial settlements also resulted in the disruption of traditional social structures and values, compounding a loss of culture and Aboriginal identity.[10]

Third, while the original European explorers, traders and settlers depended on Indigenous peoples as hosts and guides, and later developed a more egalitarian relationship through the fur trade, by the 19th century "Aboriginal people came to be viewed as an obstacle in the creation of a Euro-Canadian civilization and as dying cultures to be forcibly assimilated into Canadian society."[11] During this "nation-building" phase of Canadian history, the colonial administration and then Government of Canada adopted a series of aggressive policies of assimilation. The most explicit and devastating manifestation of these policies was a system of residential schools that were opened by churches in the 1830s, and made official government policy after Confederation when the government and churches entered into a formal relationship over the funding and operating of the schools.[12] The system was, in effect, the government's solution to the "Indian problem," that essentially sought to "get rid of the Indian by assimilating them into Canadian society."[13] This system of schools removed children from their families, and prohibited the use of Aboriginal languages, dress, and cultural practices; in effect the system sought to "'kill the Indian in the child' for the sake of Christian civilization."[14]

While only "one aspect of Aboriginal grievances in the context of ongoing social conflict,"[15] the profound effects of Indian Residential Schools (IRS) — "loss of life, denigration of culture, destruction of self-respect and self-esteem, rupture of families, impact of these trauma on succeeding generations, and the enormity of the cultural triumphalism that lay behind the enterprise"[16] — represent well the cumulative effect of centuries of colonialism on Aboriginal populations in what is now Canada. While aggressive policies of assimilation have since been abandoned, and the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian government has made significant gains in the last few decades, the cumulative effects of what has legitimately been termed a "cultural genocide" live on in the present. Aboriginal peoples still face systemic barriers and economic and social marginalization. Child and family services for Aboriginals are chronically under-funded, hundreds of land claims have yet to be resolved, and living conditions on reserves remain significantly lower than in the country as a whole.[17] Furthermore, the inter-generational effects of centuries of accumulated trauma live on in the way that Aboriginal peoples narrate their sense of identity and place in the world, in ways that continue to affect their social, psychological, cultural and economic well-being. And it is to the significance of these narratives — and the need to re-story — to which I now turn.

The Role and Implications of Narratives in Settings of Intractable Conflict

The Truth About Stories

According to Dan McAdams, "[h]uman beings are storytellers by nature."[18] As individuals, we tell stories to make sense of who we are, our relationships with others, and our place in the world. For communities, "stories create a shared history, linking people in time and event as actors, tellers, and audience," develop group identity, and give meaning to a group's existence.[19] Similarly, John Paul Lederach writes that "[n]arrative creates the formative story of who we are as a people and a place. These are... the understandings of how people come to see their place on this earth, in a figurative sense."[20] Put most succinctly, Thomas King, a Canadian writer and scholar of Native origins says: "The truth about stories is that that's all we are."[21]

Stories are Wondrous Things... And They are Dangerous

While King recognizes the salience and significance of stories — or perhaps precisely because he does — he offers his audience a warning: "Stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous... So you have to be careful with the stories you tell. And you have to watch out for the stories that you are told."[22] In settings of intractable conflict, as elsewhere, narratives play a central role in how groups understand who they are and what is happening around them. Just as narratives inform a group's identity, they also serve to define who the "other" is, while "chosen traumas" and "chosen glories" determine how events are framed, remembered, and passed on. Such stories may serve to pit one group against the other, to de-humanize other groups, to silence the voices of the enemy or the marginalized, and to justify the perpetuation of violence. These stories are "dangerous" in that they compromise the ability of groups to co-exist with any measure of peace or justice.

From the very first contact, Aboriginal and European settlers narrated their relationship and history in different ways. The standard narrative of Canadian history "which resonates especially with those of European ancestry," begins with European arrival on the continent and tells of "...pioneers and waves of immigration birthing a peaceable nation from a vast, untamed landscape." At various points during this history, Aboriginals have been treated in different ways, as early European traders and settlers justified and rationalized their treatment of Aboriginal peoples with different myths. Concepts such as "terra nullius" (empty land), "the new world" and Canada as a country of "two-founding nations" (English and French) depicted the continent as " empty, untamed land in need of civilization" and glossed over the significant role Aboriginal peoples have played in the development of Canada.[25] When Aboriginals did make it into the European narratives it was as savage characters in need of civilization, an image supported by ideas of social Darwinism and racial inferiority prevalent in the day.[26]

Such narratives found expression in various government documents and policies, such as the reports of the Baggot Commission, the Gradual Civilization Act (1857), and An act for the gradual enfranchisement of Indians (1869), among others, that advocated aggressive assimilation of Aboriginals into mainstream society.[27] The endeavour of residential schools to "kill the Indian in the child" in the name of "Christian civilization" is perhaps the most explicit example of such assimilationist ideology. Even as such concepts and narratives about Aboriginals have lost their explicit hold, the image of the "incompetent Indian" remains,[28] and other harmful stereotypes continue to permeate mainstream Canadian discourse.

Silenced, Forgotten and Broken Stories

On the other side of these "dangerous" stories are stories that are broken, unheard, silenced, or never told. In settings of conflict, especially, the tendency towards collective forgetting or "collective amnesia"[29] — a process through which a society collectively ignores a part of its past instead of dealing with the pain either inflicted to or by this collective — is particularly likely to occur and result in collective narratives that gloss over significant episodes in history — and thus forego the responsibility to deal with injustices.

In the Canadian context, Aboriginal voices have been absent from the dominant narrative of Canada's history. Aboriginal peoples' own narratives of their past and present both vary significantly from the dominant narrative of Canada's past and have been disrupted. In opposition to the dominant narrative of pioneers and the "new world", Aboriginal peoples "...tell... of ancient origins preserved in legends, of migrations that spanned the continent, of trading networks and treaty making and sporadic conflicts to establish boundaries between nations, of prophecies that foretold how their lives would be changed by newcomers to their lands."[30] Such stories, however, have little been heard — perhaps until more recently — in mainstream Canadian discourse. The passing over of this narrative of history has also meant that other, more painful Aboriginal stories have also long been silenced. Stories of epidemics, dispossession, loss of culture, language, and identity have been absent from mainstream purview.

Beyond the silence of stories — and perhaps partly as a result of this silence — the often traumatic experience of Aboriginals' past has led to a fragmentation in their own story and self-understanding. For indigenous cultures in many places, "... original violence might best be understood as the disruption — and far too often — outright destruction — of a people's story."[31] Of the Canadian Aboriginal experience, one Elder says: "We Native people have a shattered past. Now, today, we are trying to pick up all the pieces and put them back together so that our future will not be so fragmented."[32] Thus, in the Canadian case, centuries of violence have not simply been ignored/forgotten in mainstream discourse about the past. This violence, compounded by collective forgetting and silencing of Aboriginal voices, has led to a fragmentation and breaking of Aboriginals' own narratives.

The Past in the Present: Memory, Narrative and Intergenerational Trauma

Another way in which stories play a significant role in settings of intractable conflict is by making the past accessible in the present. Stories function not only in space, giving meaning to current circumstance, but also in time, and it is through narrative as a collective act of remembering that "...the past is kept alive, present among us."[33]

When memories and narratives are fragmented and traumatic, the experience of violence and suffering can be passed from one generation to the next through stories. In Aboriginal societies, "[a]s the oral transmission of information and memories is very pronounced... through this process[of memory and narrative], the traumatic memory perpetuates itself and, in a sense, traumatic events continue into the present."[34] Of the Aboriginal Canadian experience, Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski write:

Someone born in the twentieth century does not remember the suffering of his or her ancestors; what he or she carries are the "images of ourselves and our external environment (that) are shaped by memories that are passed on by legions of men and women we have never known and never shall meet."[35]

Furthermore, as "...Aboriginal people of today still experience profound social problems caused by their marginalization within a dominant society, those memories of the traumatic past must seem relevant to them or, in other words, the past is real today even though the times have changed."[36]

In this way, stories function to transmit experiences of violence and pass along a certain conception of Aboriginal identity — one that often involves the experience of victimhood and helplessness. Such stories are compounded by the other functions of stories mentioned above; these stories are often fragmented, and have long been kept silenced in mainstream Canadian discourse, their silence preferred to other narratives of Canadian history that permit the forgetting of the violence done to Aboriginals and forego owning responsibility.

Towards Reconciliation: Emerging Venues for Re-Storying Canada's Past

Accounting for Narrative in Peacebuilding

As we have seen, narratives play a crucial role in how groups make sense of who they are and where they come from, and their place in both time and space. As such, narratives (or their silencing and fragmentation) also play varying roles in the perpetuation of violence and victimhood; accounting for narrative in peacebuilding processes is something long overdue. A key challenge for peacebuilding, then, is to find ways to "work on narratives," to "allow space for stories and memories to come to light."[37] In Lederach's words, "[t]he challenge...lies in how, in the present, interdependent people 'restory', that is, begin the process of providing space for the story to take its place and begin the weaving of a legitimate and community-determined place among other stories."[38]

In the Canadian context, this "re-storying" must happen — and I think is becoming operative — on a number of levels. This "re-storying" requires space for challenging the dominant narratives of Canadian history, and the "'rewriting'[of] history and group narratives" that acknowledges past injustices and fosters reconciliation.[39] "Re-storying" also means creating spaces in which Aboriginal peoples can re-claim their voice — and agency — and begin to put together the pieces of a fragmented, broken and silenced past, and in so doing to transform stories of victimhood into stories of resiliency, in order heal inter-generationally-sustained and transmitted traumas. In what follows, I give an overview, roughly chronological, of a number of processes — political, social, legal, and otherwise — that have emerged as spaces and processes in which this "re-storying" has begun to take place.

Signs of Change

In the latter half of the 20th century, the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada slowly began to change. Discussions begun as early as the 1940s about dismantling the system of residential schools finally materialized, and the official partnership between the churches and state came to an end in 1969; the schools slowly closed over the coming decades.[40] Efforts on both the political level (with strong urging from various non-governmental actors) and the community level since the late 1960s have begun to alter the place of Aboriginal peoples in Canada — and led to the emergence of different stories about Canada's past. During Pierre Trudeau's time as Prime Minister, Canada's adoption of an official policy of multiculturalism brought with it a recognition of Canada's "tri-national" (instead of "bi-national") history, and the drafting of Canada's constitution (1982) opened the door for discussions about issues of treaty and land rights and Aboriginal self-determination. At the urging of their Aboriginal members, the churches also began to conceive of their relationship with Aboriginals differently, and as early as 1986, began apologizing for their past treatment of Aboriginals and launched efforts aimed at healing and reconciliation. While modest, these varied activities opened the door towards recognition of historical injustices, a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada, and demands for public acknowledgement and venues for truth-telling to emerge.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

During the 1990s, two significant and simultaneous processes resulted in new venues for better understanding and beginning to deal with the legacy of Canada's colonial past. First, in response to the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and a standoff between the Mohawk people and the Qu‚bec provincial police in 1990, the Government created the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP).[41] The RCAP was tasked with investigating the "evolution of the relationship among aboriginal peoples (Indian, Inuit, Métis), the Canadian government and Canadian society as a whole," and to "...propose specific solutions, rooted in domestic and international experience, to the problems which have plagued those relationships and which confront aboriginal peoples." Significantly, the Commission was tasked with investigating a time period (pre-1500-1996) far more expansive than any other public inquiry or truth commission anywhere.[43] The Commission carried out extensive research and produced a 4000-page report with 440 recommendations for the Government. Among other things, the final RCAP Report concluded that residential schools "aroused more outrage and shame" than any other aspect of their research,[44] and recommended that those responsible apologize for their acts; that communities be compensated financially; that funding be provided for the treatment of survivors, and that the Government launch a public inquiry into the IRS system.[45] For the first time, a major, federally mandated Commission had brought to light some of the historical and current challenges plaguing the relationship between Aboriginals and the rest of Canada.

The Government, however, failed to follow through on many of the RCAP's recommendations. The Government response — Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan — laid out priority areas to work on, but a public inquiry was not launched. In response to the RCAP recommendation that "a great cleansing of wounds of the past must take place" before a renewal of relationships could begin, Gathering Strength did include a "Statement of Reconciliation" in which the Government "formally acknowledges and expresses regret for the historic injustices experienced by Aboriginal people," and specifically apologized "[t]o those... who suffered this tragedy at residential schools." Unfortunately, the statement was not well received for a number of reasons, though it was at least a start.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation

Of the Government's varied responses, perhaps the most significant and welcomed act was the allocation of $350 million towards the establishment of a "healing fund" that was to help "address the legacy of abuse in the residential school system."[47] Under the leadership of RCAP commissioner George Erasmus, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) was created with a vision of "helping aboriginal people heal themselves."[48] The AHF has undertaken a number of different activities, including funding community-level healing initiatives, supporting a number of research projects that have resulted in many publications, and the production and distribution of a newsletter entitled "Healing Words" that documents different stories of individual and community healing and resiliency. Their work has focused on "breaking the silence" of the legacy of residential schools, and helping both Aboriginal people and others understand the connection between historic injustice and current physical, social and emotional problems. While their mandate is focused on IRS, publications have addressed issues stretching far further back in history, contributed to a growing body of literature that seeks to comprehend the effect of historic violence on current generations, and the AHF has led to the creation of Aboriginal frameworks for healing. Significantly, the healing models developed by the AHF have emphasized the need to reclaim traditional Aboriginal cultures and language. In so doing, their work has contributed to the creation of safe spaces where Aboriginal peoples can begin to tell their stories, to re-claim their language, culture, identity — and voice — and to begin putting back together the pieces of a fragmented past. Collectively, the AHF's work has served as a venue for healing on the community level, while also contributing to broader understandings of the significance of this past for today.

Breaking the Silence on Residential Schools: The Legal Route

Concurrent to the processes just described, another issue was gaining voice, and adding momentum to a process that would eventually lead to a comprehensive settlement with a mandate for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 1990, Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) publicly disclosed (on a national television broadcast) that he and many of his classmates at residential school had been sexually and physically abused.[50] Fontaine's disclosure was followed by many more, and ex-residential school students soon began taking the issue to court. By the end of the 1990s, thousands of former students had filed lawsuits against the Government, the churches, and /or specific employees responsible for abuse.[51] This growing tide of lawsuits "...threatened to create a logjam in the Canadian court system," resulted in huge legal costs to the Government and pushed a number of the churches to the brink of bankruptcy.[52] After rounds of negotiating involving the Government, churches, IRS survivors, the AFN, Aboriginal healers and leaders, and one failed Government response, in 2006 the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) was signed.[53] The agreement included: a "Common Experience Payment" for all living survivors (or the estates of deceased survivors) of IRS paid by the Government[54]; an Individual Assessment Process (IAP) for the adjudication of cases of abuse, also to be paid by the Government; $125 million in Government funds and a 5-year extension to the mandate of the AHF, as well as $100 million in Church contributions for healing initiatives; $60 million for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to operate for 5 years; and $20 million for commemoration, including national and community-based events to be managed in conjunction with the TRC.[55] Effectively born as a result of Aboriginal people standing up and giving voice to experiences long silenced, this agreement was the largest class action settlement in Canadian history, and far more comprehensive and far reaching than anything that had come before. Significantly, the agreement sought to address not only the issue of physical and sexual abuse in the schools, but also the cumulative cultural, emotional and psychological effect that the system had on Aboriginal communities as a whole.

Public Acknowledgment and the TRC

As Aboriginal voices and experiences had long been silenced in Canadian history, public recognition of past injustices was and is seen to be a particularly significant aspect of healing and reconciliation. AHF Board Member Dan George, for instance, noted that "Canada's recognition of our shared history would be validation of what happened. The memory of convenience that permeates Canadian society is an impediment to reconciliation."[56] Within this context, and considering the multiple processes that brought it about — processes that involved speaking truth and giving voice to stories long silenced — the Government apology to survivors of IRS on June 8, 2008 bears great significance as a very public act in which the Government gave voice to its past wrong-doings and acknowledged that Aboriginal voices had been silenced for too long. Furthermore, after the Government apology, a number of Aboriginal peoples (including Phil Fontaine, dressed in a traditional eagle-feather headdress) were allowed space to respond from the floor of the House of Commons; this added another layer to the significance of the event, as not only did the Government acknowledge that Aboriginal voices had long been overlooked, but Aboriginal voices were given a public and central space to give voice to their own experience.[57]

Creating a space for Aboriginal peoples to give voice to their own experience is precisely what the TRC is to do. Unfortunately, the work of the TRC has been delayed due to internal personnel issues. Hopeful that its work will resume shortly, I want to offer a few thoughts on the potential significance of its work. First, as the RCAP before it, the work of the Commission will help bring to light aspects of Canada's past that have been long silenced or overlooked, and challenge the dominant narrative of Canadian history. As "[n]on-Aboriginal people are mostly unaware of the impact of the history of colonization on contemporary Aboriginal lives,"[59] the public events of the TRC will further serve to bring to light the way in which past narratives and experiences of violence live on in the present, and to add Aboriginal voices to mainstream narratives of Canada's history. Although the TRC is focused on the issue of IRS, at its best it will also show that residential schools were but one feature of a system of colonization and assimilation whose effects still reverberate today. Second, the TRC will be a place not simply to challenge dominant narratives, but for Aboriginal peoples to speak, to give voice to their experiences, to reclaim agency and, in so doing, to transform fragmented stories of victimhood into narratives of resiliency. In these ways, the TRC has the potential to be a pivotal venue in which the "re-storying" of Canada's past on multiple levels can occur, and where the healing of past wounds and reconciling of broken relationships may begin to take place on a broader scale.

By Way of Conclusion

While much peacebuilding work focuses on the recent past and activities for the present to deal with the tangible aspects of conflict, in settings of intractable conflict attending to issues of identity, inter-generational trauma and long-standing grievances requires that the significance of narratives be given more thought. In Canada, as narratives have been used in the perpetuation and justification of violence, injustices have been sustained by forgetting about or silencing Aboriginal voices, and a fragmented sense of Aboriginal identity and victimhood have been passed from one generation to the next through stories, the need to re-story Canada's past is particularly pronounced. While "re-storying" is only one facet of healing the past and repairing broken relationships — in the Canadian case, it must be accompanied by other significant structural changes in the treatment of Aboriginal peoples — allowing space for broken stories and previously silenced voices to emerge is integral to the act of reconciliation and building peace. Indeed, if their full significance is attended to, "re-storying" has the potential to lay the foundation for more tangible changes in relationships. Or, in the words of Castellano et al, writing about the potential of the TRC:

Stories that tell harsh truths without flinching, that honour the resilience of individuals and communities who are restoring balance in their lives, and that give evidence of a commitment on all sides to transforming relationships, have a chance of becoming a part of the grand narrative of Canada, shaping our understanding of who we are as a people and enabling us to live our lives differently."[60]

[1] Nancy McDonald, "To Forgive or Forget," Macleans, Vol. 121, Issue 24, pp. 24-25 (June 23, 2008).

[2] See "Schedule 'N': Mandate for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission," Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (2006). Available online at <>

[3] Footage of this event is available courtesy of CBC's Digital Archives. See "A long-awaited apology," June 11, 2008.

[4] Tristan Anne Borer, ed., Telling the Truth: Truth Telling and Peace-Building in Post-Conflict Societies (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006), 46.

[5] John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 146.

[6] Brian Rice and Anna Snyder, "Reconciliation in the Context of a Settler Society: Healing the Legacy of Colonialism in Canada," in Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald & Mike DeGagné (eds), From Truth To Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools (Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2008), 49

[7] Cynthia C. Wesley-Esquimaux and Magdalena Smolewski, Historic Trauma and Aboriginal Healing (Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2004), 6.

[8] Ibid., 11-28.

[9] Ibid., 6.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rice & Snyder, 49.

[12] In 1879, the Government of Canada entered into a relationship with a number of Catholic orders and communities, the Anglican Church, the Methodist Church (later the United Church) and the Presbyterian Church. The government funded the schools, while the churches operated them. See John S. Milloy, 'A National Crime': The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879-1986 (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999).

[13] Jennifer Llewellyn explains the logic of the Canadian government's decision to fund these schools as such: "At the time of Confederation, Aboriginal peoples were declared wards of the federal government. As such, they were the financial responsibility of the federal government. It was thus in the government's best interest to encourage assimilation and, ultimately, enfranchisement of Aboriginal peoples. As full citizens, Aboriginals would no longer be wards of the State, and the government would thus be relieved of the costs associated with this fiduciary relationship. The government's solution to the problem seemed clear — get rid of the Indians by assimilating them into Canadian society. Residential schools were the means through which this goal was to be achieved." Jennifer Llewellyn, "Dealing with the Legacy of Native Residential School Abuse in Canada: Litigation, ADR, and Restorative justice," University of Toronto Law Journal (2002), 53: 256.

[14] Milloy, xv.

[15] Rice & Snyder, 52.

[16] From the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, as cited in Castellano et al, 2.

[17] Rice & Snyder, 52.

[18] Dan McAdams, The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self (New York: The Guilford Press, 1993), 27.

[19] Ibid., 28.

[20] Lederach, 143.

[21] Thomas King, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2003). This work is the publication of King's address for the 2003 CBC Massey Lectures. The lectures were delivered in 5 different cities across the country, each of which was opened in almost identical fashion. The phrase quoted above is therefore found on pages 2, 32,62, 92 and 122. King was the first person of Native descent to deliver the lectures, and gained attention for not delivering an "academic" lecture as usual, but for using stories.

[22] King, 9, 10.

[23] Amela Puljek-Shank and Randall Puljek-Shank, "The Contribution of Trauma Healing to Peacebuilding in Southeast Europe," in Barry Hart, ed. Peacebuilding in Traumatized Societies (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc. 2008), 162.

[24] Castellano et al, 1.

[25] Rice & Snyder, 53.

[26] Ibid., 54.

[27] Ibid., 50-51. See also "A Condensed Timeline of Events," in Castellano et al, 64-65.

[28] Rice & Snyder, 54.

[29] See, for example, Ariel Dorman, Other Septembers, Many Americas: Selected Provocations, 1980-2004 (Toronto: Seven Stories Press, 2004), xiv or Iwona Irwin-Zarecka, Frames of Remembrance: The Dynamics of Collective Memory, (London: Tranaction Publishers, 1994), 130.

[30] Castellano et al 2.

[31] Lederach, 140.

[32] Quoted in Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 87.

[33] Lederach, 136.

[34] Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski , 71.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Puljek-Shank & Puljek-Shank, 168.

[38] Lederach, 140.

[39] Puljek-Shank & Puljek-Shank, 169.

[40] See "A Condensed Timeline of Events" in Castellano et al, 64-65.

[41] See Llewellyn, footnote 24, pp. 258-259. Canada's 1982 Constitution was never signed by Québec. The Meech Lake Accord was an attempt to get Québec to sign on to the Constitution. While Aboriginal treaty rights were included in the 1982 Constitution Act, they were not very specific, and there was hope in the lead-up to Meech Lake that Aboriginals' right to self-government would be entrenched in the Constitution. The Accord, however, failed.

[42] Quoted in Milloy, 302-303.

[43] See Priscilla B. Hayner, Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions (New York: Routledge, 2002), 312.

[44] Quoted in Milloy, 203.

[45] Renewal: A Twenty-Year Commitment: Volume 5 of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (Ottawa: Canada Communications Group, 1997), Appendix A: Summary of Recommendations, Volumes 1-5. See recommendation 1.10.1, p.3.

[46] See Gathering Strength — Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan (Ottawa, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development: 1997).

[47] Mary C. Hurly and Jill Wherrett, "In Brief: The Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People" (Ottawa, Parliamentary Research Branch, Library of Parliament: 1999, PRB 99-24E), 2. The full report is available online at <>.

[48] See their website at <>.

[49] Marlene Brant Castellano, A Healing Journey: Reclaiming Wellness: Final Report of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Volume 1 (Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006), 8.

[50] McDonald, 24.

[51] The exact number of lawsuits varies in different reports. Llewellyn reports that by October 2001, over 8,500 lawsuits had been filed. She notes that in 200, however, "it was generally reported that there were 10,000 litigants and over 8,000 cases, including two class action suits" (footnote 35, p. 261). The Government predicted that the number would rise to 15,000 over the next decade (261). See also Jane O'Hara, "No Forgiving," Macleans' Vol. 113, Issue 26, 23.

[52] Llewellyn, 262-263. See also Michael McAteer, "Lawsuits threaten church's future: residential school claims shoot past 200," Anglican Journal, April 1999.

[53] Castellano et al, 3.

[54] $1.9 billion was set aside for these payments. Students are eligible for an initial payment of $10,000, plus $3,000 for any additional year spent in residential school.

[55] Assembly of First Nations, "Key Elements of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement" (May 2006).

[56] Quoted in Castellano et al, 50. A similar sentiment about the significance of public apologies was noted by guests on a cross-country call-in radio program (CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Check-up) in the summer of 2008. Sally Ross, for instance, noted that apologies create awareness and sensitivity towards history, adding: "Our democracy is far from perfect, and has not been perfect, and I think we should be aware of that." See "When should government's apologize for historical wrongs," (August 10, 2008), available at <>. Listen also to "What are your thoughts on the government apology for residential schools" (June 15, 2008).

[57] It should be noted that neither the decision to allow Aboriginal leaders to respond in the House, nor the apology itself, were readily agreed to by the Government. Although the IRSSA acknowledged that an apology would be forthcoming, Stephen Harper's government, elected shortly after the ISSA was signed, at first said that an apology was unnecessary, and if it was to come it would be at the end of the TRC. Relentless pressure by Aboriginal groups, the churches, and other political parties (especially Jack Layton of the NDP) eventually led Harper to decide to issue the apology. The decision to let Aboriginal leaders respond was equally hard-sought, and only made just immediately before people entered the House of Commons. David MacDonald, telephone interview by author, December 15, 2008.

[58] Justice Harry Laforme, the Chair of the TRC, resigned in the fall of 2008 over reported conflict with the two commissioners of the TRC. In January 2009, the commissioners also resigned and a search to replace all three positions was begun. At the time of writing, the search had not yet been complete. For updates, visit: <>

[59] Wesley-Esquineaux & Smolewski, 83.

[60] Castellano et al, 409.