A Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Work

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) spent five years travelling across Canada, hearing stories about Residential School experiences and their effects. The TRC created many documents detailing their findings; most importantly, the 94 Calls to Action that urge all levels of government, including Indigenous, to work together to repair the harm done and to move forward with reconciliation. Covering hundreds of years of history, thousands of stories heard, and many published reports, it can be hard to fully comprehend the work done. This summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work will help you gain a broad understanding of reconciliation in Canada.  

Why Was the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Created?

Residential Schools existed in Canada from the 1870’s through to the 1990’s. They were a means to educate and assimilate Indigenous people into the Euro-Canadian and Christian way of life. The schools were compulsory, and children were frequently forcibly removed from their homes and relatives to be sent to the schools. With their language, cultural, and family supports gone, the children had no supports in the schools, nor when they left. This 100+ year practice has left a scar across our country. Lost languages, relationships, culture. Abuse and isolation. Distrust between cultures. This has been passed down through generations, to where we now uncomfortably sit. Canada cannot claim to be a home for all people, regardless of race or religion, without acknowledging and rectifying the past. Indigenous people cannot begin to heal. No Canadian can.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to formally uncover the past, no matter how uncomfortable, and to produce a plan to lead us toward reconciliation, mutual understanding, and respect. Reconciliation can mean a lot of different things to different people, but,  

To the Commission, “reconciliation” is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour[i].

Between 2008 and 2014, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission travelled across Canada, held seven National awareness events, and heard thousands of stories from survivors, family members, communities, and anyone affected by the Residential School system. In total, there were 238 days of local hearings in seventy-seven different communities.

What Were the Outcomes of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s Work?

In culmination of their work, the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation opened at the University of Manitoba. Their Mandate states that “The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) was created to preserve the memory of Canada’s Residential School system and legacy. Not just for a few years, but forever.” The Commission’s work is accessible online, including hearing recordings, documents, and findings, and the Centre further supports reconciliation education, research, and events.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself published five documents, including their Final Report, which can be read on their website. The Executive Summary is a good place to begin to understand the process and findings of the TRC, as it covers the Commission’s activities, the history of Residential Schools, the legacy left behind, challenges to reconciliation, and the TRC’s calls to action. 

What are the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action?

The 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are divided into two sections: legacy and reconciliation. These recommendations were created to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation”[ii], and now are serving as a barometer for Canada’s reconciliation progress.

CBC News created an interactive website that details the Calls to Action, and monitors the work done for each. As of March 26, 2018, the progress so far is:

  • Complete: 10
  • Projects Underway: 15
  • Projects Proposed: 25
  • Not Started: 44

How Can I Help Reconciliation in Canada?

Everyone in Canada can help with the reconciliation process. Educating yourself is one of the first (and easiest) steps that you can take, which you have already done by reading this summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s work. For more ways that you can become involved in the reconciliation movement, visit the TRC website.

Reconciliation is a complicated thing, and involves many people, stories, and initiatives. As a country, Canada is now moving in the right direction, in the hopes that it will “inspire Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands that we now share”[iii]. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work is only the beginning.


[i] What We Have Learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation. Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Principles_2015_05_31_web_o.pdf

[ii] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. 2015. http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

[iii] What We Have Learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation. Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Principles_2015_05_31_web_o.pdf