Indian Residential School Survivor Programs



DATE: October 20, 2007

FROM: Kaley Pulfer

AT: University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, International Human Rights Clinic

RE: Indian Residential School Survivor Programs

Section I – The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“the TRC”) was created under Schedule N of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (“the Agreement”), which was agreed to in principle on May 8, 2008. On September 19, 2007, it was announced that the implementation of the settlement agreement was underway. While the main focus of the implementation surrounded common experience payments and how that aspect of the agreement would proceed, it is also important for the establishment of the TRC, especially given the fiver year time limit.

The goals of the TRC include the provision of an appropriate setting in which to allow Indian Residential School Survivors (IRSS) to share their experiences, to promote awareness of these experiences among Canadians, to create an historical record of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system, to support commemoration of IRSS and their families, and to submit recommendations to the Government of Canada.

The TRC will be composed of one chairperson and two commissioners who are appointed by a selection panel. The Selection Panel includes representatives chosen by National Aboriginal organizations, the Government and church entities. Currently, nomination acknowledgment letters have been sent out by the corporate Secretariat in response to the almost 300 applications they have received for the position. Candidate evaluation will be based on the Gazette Notice of Vacancy and the public ad calling for nominations. The Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Chuck Strahl, and Chief Phil Fontaine of the AFN will receive the panel’s recommendations, and the Prime Minister will receive the recommendations for Commissioners.

There will also be an Executive Director who will be in charge of the operation of the commission through the central Secretariat. Once the commissioners are appointed by the Federal Government, they shall establish an Indian Residential School Survivor Committee (IRSSC) that shall represent Aboriginal organizations and survivor groups, reflecting population distribution of the schools, from across the country.

The Commission is authorized to receive and make use of statements and documents from IRSS and their families, communities, or other interested participants. They are, however, limited by privacy laws, and its own mandate which excludes the use of formal hearings, public inquiries, formal legal proceedings, subpoena or compelling powers. Additionally, the commission can not identify any individuals alleged of wrongdoing unless that individual has been convicted of that act. The government of Canada and the churches, subject to individual privacy limitations, shall provide all relevant documents in their possession to the TRC.(p.10)

The responsibilities of the Commission include statement-taking, fact-finding, report-writing, and archiving in order to compile a history of the Residential Schools in Canada. In addition to establishing a research centre from which their research (fact-finding, statement-taking and collecting, report-writing) will be conducted, the Commission will organize seven national events to disseminate information to the public through the participation of survivors and government and church officials, and educational means. The commission is also responsible for evaluating commemoration proposals and preparing a final report. In addition, it should provide guidance to communities in which residential schools were located are responsible for organizing events involving both survivors and if desired former employees, government and church officials, to develop and create a record of community narratives, while educating the public and encouraging better relationships within the community.

In order to facilitate this work, an Indian residential School Survivor Committee (IRSSC) will be established. It is to be composed of 10 representatives from Aboriginal organizations and survivor groups and should reflect the regional population distribution of IRS. They are to provide the commission with information regarding the characteristics of their communities and criteria for the process, to evaluate proposals for Commemoration Policy, among other issues. The Executive Director and Commissioners are to consult the IRSSC regarding regional liaison appointments, who will assist in the implementation of reconciliation events, as well as provide a link between national and local groups to promote sharing of knowledge and facilitate truth-telling and the collection of such information for the Commission.

Currently, the office of the Interim Executive Director, Bob Watts, has established a selection panel to evaluate commissioner applications.

Section II – Indian Residential School Survivor Groups Indian Residential School Survivors Society ( IRSSS is a British Columbia group that was created in 1995 to provide support to survivors of residential schools. It is mandated by survivors, chiefs, and political leaders in B.C. and is focused on helping First Nations peoples to be empowered by the acknowledgment of the effects of Residential Schools through “supporting research promoting awareness, establishing partnerships and advocating for justice and healing”. The IRSSS seeks to give voice to survivors, maintain traditional values, encourage unity among survivors, communities, and agencies to mend divisions created by the residential school system.

The organization provides support to survivors and outreach workers through counseling, court, informational, and referral support to IRSS, educational programs and workshops to raise awareness and train community members, and research initiatives. It has also published a resource kit entitled “Survivor’s Guide to Current Residential School Issues”The IRSSS publishes news bulletins that provide information regarding the settlement process for survivors and their relatives, as well as frontline workers. The IRSSS also provides workshops on a variety of topics, including issues that often arise for survivors and their families. In addition to workshops, the IRSS created a National Residential School Survivor Support Line to provide emotional and informational support. Aboriginal counselors, who are all themselves direct or intergenerational residential school survivors, are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They provide counseling services and referrals to information and resources regarding residential school survivor issues. The IRSS also publishes a monthly newsletter, entitled “The Survivors Journey”. The newsletter seeks input from individuals in the form of survival story, art, photos, and poems.

In relation to the TRC, it provides updates and new bulletins regarding various aspects of the settlement agreement, such as CEP payment information and calls for commissioner applications.

Native Residential School Survivors Society (

Incorporated in 2005 as a Not For Profit Society, The National Residential School Survivors’ Society (NRSSS) was created by the consensus among regional residential school survivor groups of the need for a national representative organization. The mission of the NRSSS is to act as advocates for survivors, their families, and communities, and to serve as a catalyst for the “empowerment, healing, reconciliation and justice”. The NRSSS provides information and direction to survivors regarding compensation issues, commemoration events, and truth and reconciliation initiatives. Its purpose includes acting as a non-political representative to mediate the relationship between survivors and government and churches, as well as to advise both government and Aboriginal Political Entities on residential school issues. It also strives to educate the general public about the Residential School legacy in order to ensure that it is understood and not forgotten. Additionally, it serves to facilitate networking among survivor groups. At their Annual General Meeting held September 16th-17th, resolutions passed included:

  • a plan for the NRSS Executive Board to meet with the AFN to discus the changing policy of using focus group and meetings between AHF staff and survivors
  • that the government be required to identify new funding sources outside of the agreement to mark and maintain sites similar to heritage and burial sites
  • developing a strategy to recognize those who passed away in residential schools
  • active support for the creation of a National Indian Residential School Museum of Canada and the creation of a National Board to oversee it
  • to negotiate with the TRC to ensure that there is one male and one female IRS survivor and one intergenerational survivor to act as sub-commissioners in each region

The NSSS’s website also provides links to news bulletins, their monthly newsletter, editorials, survivor photos and stories, and commemoration dates, as well as information regarding the settlement agreement, compensation payments, and missing or lost records.

Residential School Survivor’s Society of Alberta (Edmonton Survivors’ Society)

The Residential School Survivor’s Society of Alberta, located in Edmonton, was formed in 2005 in response to increased attention to Residential School issues. The group holds monthly meetings and has over 80 members to address issues such as lack of or inaccuracy of information regarding residential schools, the absence of programs and services for survivors and their families.

In order to address these concerns, the society is awaiting a response to their request for funding to establish and office and provide services. The society is currently trying to network with other local groups across Alberta to implement such services, especially given that Alberta was the locale for more residential schools than any other province in Canada.

Manito Nodin ‘Spirit Wind’ Survivors

Manito Nodin Spirit Wind Survivors (Spirit Wind) was established in 2000 to maintain and disseminate information about the IRSSA to survivors in Manitoba. The society serves as a “watchdog group”, and strives to help survivors shape the development of strategies for coping with, healing from, and reconciling with the legacy of residential schools. In doing so, Spirit Wind is committed to maintaining unity and building strength among residential school survivors.

Spirit Wind has received funding from Indian Residential School Resolutions Canada to host gatherings for residential school survivors for one year. These gatherings will focus on educating survivors about financial investment and wills and estates.

Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA)

CSAA is Ontario chapter of the NRSSS, which provides information focusing mostly on the Shingwauk residential school history. The Shingwauk Project is being implemented in conjunction with The Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and Algoma University College. It involves gathering information regarding the history and activities related to Shigwauk Hall in order to educate the public about its history. The CSAA website includes numerous photo galleries from various sources, historical information and timelines detailing the establishment and running of the Shingwauk residential schools, personal stories from survivors of the school. It also provides news updates, and information regarding the settlement agreement as well as settlement payment application forms.

Assembly of First Nations – Indian Residential Schools Unit Since its establishment in 1998, the IRSU has been urging the federal government “to address the historical effects of the Indian Residential school system”. The goal of the IRSU now it to promote the expedient settlement 

The AFN IRSU’s goal is to work with Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada to encourage the expedient settlement of the IRS claims. Through analysis and implementation of policies and judicial developments and research, and through informing potential claimants and First Nations communities about their options, the AFN strives to help the IRSRC to establish an effective procedure in this area. The AFN IRSU also supports the development of traditional healing programs, activities that promote public education and awareness, and commemoration initiatives. The website provides information regarding the settlement agreement, claim forms (CEP and IAP), informational resources regarding residential schools, and notice of current events, such as workshops. It also provides updates regarding current events and the settlement process. Additionally, the AFN IRSU is creating a database of residential school survivors to keep them updated on information regarding residential school issues that affect survivors, their families, and their communities. While this seems to be mainly for CEP purposes, it is also informational, and might be useful in relation to the TRC process. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs In order to address the need for coordinated political action in addressing common issues being experienced in First Nation communities across Manitoba, in 1988, the Chiefs of Manitoba came together to eventually form the AMC. The committees address issues such as child welfare, economic issues, self-determination and treaties, and health and social development. The AMC is not itself a survivor group, however, it provides support to survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. They have hosted a national conference to discuss the issues with arise surrounding residential schools, and continue to publish annual reports which contain updates on and information regarding residential school issues. The most recent conference included discussion regarding how to ensure that the positive aspects of the IRSSA are maximized and the negative effects are minimized. Initiatives also included networking with Aboriginal groups, IRSSS groups, to share information regarding how to serve the best interests of survivors. Since the settlement agreement, the AMC has created a “Residential School Coordinator” position to help claimants negotiate settlements. the AMC’s Residential School Compensation Coordinator has been working to ensure that all eligible First Nations in Manitoba are notified as such. The AMC has also requested funding from IRSRC to travel to aboriginal communities in Manitoba to provide them with much requested information regarding the settlement process.

Section III – Healing Initiative Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) Section 3.02 of the Settlement Agreement provides for a “Healing Fund” in which 125 million dollars will be granted to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The AHF is a non-profit corporation, which was established under the Canada Corporations Act, to address both the direct and the intergenerational healing needs of Aboriginal People affected by the Indian Residential Schools legacy. The AHF offers financial support to community-based healing initiatives, most of which focus on healing initiatives for Indian Residential School Survivors and their families. The implementation of a range of programs are funded in Aboriginal communities across Canada, from individual and group therapy, combinations of traditional and clinical therapeutic techniques, workshops, to survivor networking and information dissemination. Projects focus on increasing cultural pride, reducing shame, providing a safe environment in which survivors can tell their stories, and dealing with other negative effects arising from the Residential School legacy.

This endowment will fund a 5-year extension of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation’s initiatives targeted to Residential School Survivors. Specifically, it will allow the continued funding of AHF’s 144 existing projects until March 31, 2010, and ten healing centres until September 30, 2011. The Communications and Research projects of the AHF will also continue for three years. The AHF has reported that it takes an average of ten years to be able to reach out to community individuals and create a safe environment in which participants can engage in healing.

At this point, “Twenty percent of communities receiving funds from the AHF are just beginning their healing; Sixty-six percent of communities accomplished a few goals, but much work remains to be done; Fourteen percent of communities accomplished many goals, but some work remains.”Unfortunately, the AHF does not have adequate funding to support approximately 2/3 of the projects for the requisite 3 year period that it deems necessary in order to identify, reach out, and initiate therapeutic healing programs. AHF is not currently accepting new project proposals.

All of the projects that are funded by AHF have some residential school survivor aspect to them. Project goals range from raising awareness and educating community members about residential school and their impact, providing healing and counseling services for survivors, their families, and the larger community, to networking and building relationships among survivors. Some initiatives are tailored to a specific subset of survivors (gender, substance abuse issues, anger management, domestic violence, for example) while others are targeted to the broader community.