Indianz.Com > News > Doug George-Kanentiio: Taking action for survivors of Native residential schools
Karli Zschogner: Inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Ottawa
Four Points of Action from Residential School Survivors
Friday, October 8, 2021

On September 30 I gave a speech as to how Canada might actually realize the evasive truth and reconcilation with regards to the residential school victims.

My words were spoken on Parliament Hill in Ottawa before a crowd of many thousands and a national audience, broadcast live across the country. It was part of the National Truth and Reconciliation Day, now set aside for reflection and to commemorate the thousands of Native children buried in unmarked graves at the former school sites from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.

I began with acknowledging one of the last victims of the school I attended, the notorious Mohawk Institute, the mush hole, in Brantford, Ontario, 100 km west of Toronto. That child was Joey Commanda, 13 years old when he was struck and killed by a commuter train on September 3, 1968 as he fled the Institute for his home on the Pikawanagan Algonquin Territory 450 km away.

Joey’s death led to the closure of the Mohawk Institute in 1971 but the last of those places of confinement was not shuttered until 1996 after 150,000 Native boys and girls had been forcibly removed from their homes in an attempt to eradicate their indigenous heritage and divorce them from their lands.

Doug George-Kanentiio
Doug George-Kanentiio speaks on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, on September 30, 2021. Photo: Mike Gifford

I concentrated on four points which were of greatest importance to our survivors. These were arrived at after listening to other survivors and why the Canadian federal governments official Truth and Reconciliation plans failed; the primary cause was the failure to hold the abusers accountable, the lack of direct consultation and the imposition of external rules and procedures alien to our needs.

Point One was this: we need to throw off the shackles of victimization by taking direct control over all initiatives, events, expenditures coming from the residential school era. Nothing for us without us. I urged Native nations across Canada to create Survivor Secretariats, entities composed of survivors who will work in partnership with Native, provincial and federal governments to put in place ideas coming from us. The Secretariats will also take the leadership in locating the burial sites and repatriating the children to their respective homes. These groups will also advocate for universal pensions to be paid to every survivor, thereby giving them the security to take part in the healing activities.

Point Two was the designation of all residential school sites as crime scenes to insure their protection and to apply the latest investigative techniques to locate the children and place them back with their living relatives. This will be a prolonged process but there can be no true peace until the children are brought home.

Point Three was the prosecution of those found to be abusers. As I emphasized age is no defense, no cover, no excuse. There are many abusers yet living and as we have seen in Germany and elsewhere the need for justice demands accountability. To date, the survivors have had no chance at confronting the abusers or having them held liable for their actions. Also included in the application of criminal law must be the institutions which either knew of the abuses or were negligent in their oversight. These institutions must include any entity which contracted with the federal government to administer the schools and care for the children. Specific to my experience was the Anglican Church of Canada and, in other areas, the Roman Catholic Church which, to date, have paid a pittance in compensation and escaped prosecution altogether.

Point Four was the creation of a National Indigenous Museum, a stand alone facility, with a Residential School component to preserve our experiences for all time and to become a place where Native art is shown to the world and our cultural patrimony secured. I said I had served as a member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington when we had barely two loonies to rub together but we did have an awesome dream to construct a museum within hailing distance of the US Capitol.

Each point, I stressed, could and must be done. It shifts, in a dramatic way, the process of truth and reconciliation as defined by Canada to a series of actions coming from we, the survivors. The response to date has been favourable and we are hoping the Native nations and the US Department of the Interior will replicate our actions so it becomes continental in scope.

I now realize true peace will come about when the children, now buried, arise and are returned to the embrace of their ancestors in their home territories. It begins with the four steps to healing with the survivors in the lead.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a residential school survivor. He was given the number 4-8-2-738. He serves as the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He previously served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 315-415-7288.