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Residential Schools Commemoration Proposals Sought

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What happens when children are ripped from their parents and loving home environment, sent to live in boarding schools with strangers hundreds or thousands of miles away and forced to give up everything cultural that ever nourished them?

The effects on the families and communities of the 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children who were placed in Canada’s residential schools are still being played out today, years after the last ones closed.

An estimated 80,000 former students are living, and Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) wants survivors’ stories. The commission is seeking proposals to help commemorate and illustrate this era, which lasted from the 1870s to 1996, when the last of the 130 schools closed.

“Survivors of residential schools have been waiting a long time for this,” said TRC chairman Justice Murray Sinclair in a Jan. 4 statement. “When the work of the Commission is complete, we will ensure that the whole world hears the truth about residential schools, so that generations to come—aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians alike—will hold to the statement that resonates with all of us: ‘This must never happen again.’ ”

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized to former students, their families and communities in the House of Commons in June 2008, the same year that the TRC was created.

Part of the TRC’s mandate is to “learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools and to inform all Canadians about what happened in the schools; and to guide and inspire First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and Canadians in a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation and renewed relationships based mutual understanding and respect,” the commission stated in its call for proposals.

Funding totals $20 million, with $10 million of that available for the 2011–2012 fiscal year, the TRC said. The commission will review and evaluate all proposals and recommend its picks to the Canadian government.

The deadline for submissions is 2 p.m. on March 18, 2011. Projects will be funded starting in April 2011. More information on criteria and eligibility is available at the commission’s website.