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Témoignage et histoire dans la Commission de vérité et de réconciliation du Canada

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2013

Ronald Niezen
ProfessorMcgill University
Marie-Pierre Gadoua
PhD CandidateMcGill University


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada on Indian Residential Schools provides us with the opportunity to observe the process through which victims reconsider their place in the history of the state. The statements offered in this context put into relief the suffering and memories of assault and torture of children, to the detriment of a more complete and varied view of the origins, modes of operation, and consequences of these residential schools. By favoring the expression of a certain type of testimony, Canada’s TRC shapes many narratives of trauma, institutional crime, and national history. This essentialization of testimony leads us to question the ability of the TRC to effectively reveal the diversity and dynamics of the residential schools, the reasons for their establishment, the causes of the corruption of their goals, and the common features they might have with ongoing, enduring forms of abuse and institutional power.


La Commission de vérité et de réconciliation (CVR) du Canada relative aux pensionnats autochtones nous offre l’opportunité d’observer les processus par le biais desquels les victimes reconsidèrent leur place au sein de l’histoire de l’État. Les témoignages livrés dans ce contexte mettent en relief souffrance et souvenirs d’agression et de torture d’enfants, au détriment d’une vue d’ensemble plus complète et variée des origines, des modes d’opération et des conséquences de ces pensionnats. En favorisant l’articulation d’un certain type de témoignages, la CVR canadienne façonne autant de récits de traumatismes, de crimes institutionnels et d’histoire nationale. Cette forme d’essentialisation des témoignages nous amène à nous questionner sur les capacités de la CVR à dévoiler effectivement la diversité des dynamiques des pensionnats, les raisons de leur établissement, les causes de la corruption de leurs objectifs et les caractéristiques communes qu’ils pourraient avoir avec d’autres formes durables et continues d’abus de pouvoir institutionnel.

Copyright © Canadian Law and Society Association / Association Canadienne Droit et Société 2013 

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1 La CVR a publié à ce jour deux rapports issus des travaux de la commission : « Commission de vérité et de réconciliation du Canada : Rapport intérimaire » (Winnipeg : Commission de vérité et de réconciliation du Canada, 2012) et « Ils sont venus pour les enfants. Le Canada, les peuples autochtones et les pensionnats » (Ibid.).

2 Voir Joanna Quinn, « The Politics of Acknowledgment: An Analysis of Uganda’s Truth Commission » (YCISS Working Paper no. 19, March 2003, York University) :; Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Sierra Leone, « Witness to Truth: Report of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission » (2004):

3 « fabricate persons and things »; « legal techniques of personification and reification » ( Pottage, A., « Introduction: The Fabrication of Persons and Things », in Law, Anthropology, and the Constitution of the Social: Making Persons and Things, dirs. Pottage, A. and Mundy, M.,(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1).Google Scholar

4 « temporal sequence of experience »; « loss and political crime become invested in objects—persons, places, and things—that make them meaningful in new ways » ( Borneman, J., Political Crime and the Memory of Loss (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2011), viii).Google Scholar

5 « It is not our intention to require you only to share your pain with us . . . We need you to look not only at the sadness and pain, but to talk about the good things that happened in the schools . . . It is important for your grandchildren to know why you survived ». (Notre traduction)

6 « provides a great opportunity to hear good stories »

7 Au cours de notre recherche, notons qu’un récit « positif » est ressorti à l’extérieur de la salle de réunion seulement, lors du suivi d’un rassemblement national de la CVR à Inuvik. Dans une entrevue entrecoupée d’hésitations nerveuses, une Survivante est parvenue à dire : « [Y]ou hear a lot of negative talk about residential schools. But for me . . . I’m kind of glad I learned discipline . . . I was so young, but . . . for me [it was] the highlight of my life ».

8 « the Commission might not obtain the “whole story” of gross violations of human rights committed in the period under review » ( Ross, F., Bearing Witness: Women and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa (London: Pluto, 2003), 17).Google Scholar

9 Canada, La dignité retrouvée. La réparation des sévices infligés aux enfants dans des établissements canadiens (Ottawa : Commission du droit du Canada, 2000), 6.

10 Hinton, Voir A. L. et O’Neill, K. L., dirs., Genocide. Truth, Memory, and Representation (Durham et Londres: Duke, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar pour des études similaires faisant la lumière sur les politiques régissant la vérité, la mémoire et les représentations de ces dernières dans des contextes post-génocidaires.

11 « To this day I suffer anxiety problems. I am claustrophobic. I was not old enough when I first started school so when they sent the kids off to classes, the nuns would put me in a locker and take me out at lunch to go and eat and then when the kids would go back to school I would be locked back into that locker. And when I first got there they scrubbed me raw. They cut my hair. I slept on a bed, I couldn’t move. I had to sleep like I was on the cross. My skin was so sore. I had blisters, I bled. To this day I still have nightmares—a certain nightmare. I am floating in the air, I see my dad taking this little girl in and I’m saying « don’t take her, it’s a bad place ». But he goes in with her. As he goes up the stairs he turns and looks at me, he knows I’m there and they take me, they are all nice at first. They say they are going to take care of me, and as soon as they close the door that’s when it starts. I didn’t know how to speak English, I got many straps. I got abused by two priests . . . » (Notre traduction)

12 « I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children from home and family. I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking from you your language and the signs of your identity. I am sorry, more than I can say, that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally. On behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada, I present our apology ». (Notre traduction)

13 Forty, A., Introduction, The Art of Forgetting, dirs. Forty, A. and Küchler, S. (Oxford ; New York : Berg, 1999), 12.Google Scholar

14 « Through the stories that people tell, the images they create, the social dramas they enact, and the institutions they embrace and resist, the events of the past are interpreted and transformed into social realities » ( Natzmer, C., « Remembering and Forgetting. Creative Expression and Reconciliation in Port-Pinochet Chile », dans Social Memory and History: Anthropological Perspectives, dirs. Climo, J. and Cattell, M. (Walnut Creek, CA ; Oxford: AltaMira Press, 2002), 161). (Notre traduction)Google Scholar

15 Auteure d’un livre auto-publié au sujet de son expérience dans les écoles. Knockwood, I., Out of the Depths: The Experiences of Mi’Kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia (Black Point: Roseway, 2001).Google Scholar

16 « to set the tone, to set the context ». (Notre traduction)

17 Pour une forme d’analyse semblable, voir Bloch, M., How We Think They Think. Anthropological Approaches to Cognition, Memory, and Literacy (Oxford: Westview Press, 1998).Google Scholar

18 Halbwachs, M., Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire (Paris: Alcan, 1935).Google Scholar

19 Middleton, D. and Edwards, D., dirs., Collective Remembering (London: Sage, 1990).Google Scholar

20 « It’s like a secret bond, because we all have the pain », Gus Joshua, Halifax, 28 octobre 2011. (Notre traduction)

21 « I consider all school survivors my family . . . I call them brother and sister, even though we’re not related », Rose-Marie Prosper, Halifax, 28 octobre 2011. (Notre traduction)

22 Gadoua, M-P., « The Inuit Presence at the First Canadian Truth and Reconciliation National Event », Études/Inuit/Studies 34, 2 (2010): 167–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

24 Pour une discussion détaillée du rôle actif de la culture matérielle dans le processus de remembrance, Jones, voir A., Memory and Material Culture (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2007).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

25 Gell, A., Art and Agency. An Anthropological Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).Google Scholar

26 Pour un parallèle avec les effets immédiats et déférés de la performance du discours, Butler, voir J., Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York ; London: Routledge, 1997).Google Scholar

27 « Today I have been so abused with all the accusations—what do you call them?—allegations against me. Even being here [in the interview] is difficult for me. The meetings they have now—what do you call it?—truth and reconciliation. If you ask my opinion, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe half of what they say . . . In my school in 5 years I never heard physical abuse and sexual abuse. Years later this comes and all of a sudden you find out you are a criminal. That makes me mad. I’ve lost hours and hours of sleep over that business ». Interview at Residence Despins, Winnipeg, 21 June 2010. (Notre traduction)

28 « To apply such standards of the day would obviate two risks : the creation of an unreal image of the idyllic life of First Nation children prior to attendance at Residential Schools, and the equally untrue depiction of the Residential School as a grim environment directed only by sadists ». Lettre de l’archevêque Gérard Pettipas à Dan Ish, adjudicateur en chef. (Notre traduction)

29 « Pages upon pages of smiling children contradict the pain underneath, said united church archivist Jennifer Ching. It’s hard, looking at these photos and knowing what happened to these seemingly happy kids » ( (Notre traduction)

30 « must attend to the conditions under which such narratives arise—the political agency that such narrations refract, replicate and authorize—and yet also account for the wide-ranging circuits that filter and consume the biographical artifact. [. . .] The testimony [. . .] is a window of historical visualization and also a historical object, midwifed from materialities of pain and suffering ». ( Feldman, A., « Memory Theaters, Virtual Witnessing, and the Trauma-Aesthetic », Biography 27, 1 (2004): 163–64. (Notre traduction)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

31 « sometimes at night all you smell is bad breath and all you see is these big hands »; « there are parts I can’t even remember . . . years I don’t even know about »; « years after I quit drinking, I still felt a lot of shame »; « I eventually found my culture that was taken away »; « our proudest achievement is none of our kids is baptized ». (Notre traduction)

32 « I’m old enough to remember Indian Agents. And the saddest thing I see is our chiefs acting like Indian Agents ». (Notre traduction)

33 « As a young priest I was working in Saskatoon and I was driving up to the hospital to visit a family. Somebody was sick. And I was wearing the Roman collar. And so as I was parked at the stoplight, the guy walked by and saw the collar and he just went to moon me. You know, just kind of, to show me what he felt. I’d never seen him before and didn’t know him but it was just the anger coming out. Another time, just walking along with the collar on, and the finger flipped at me, you get the bird. Never saw that person before, didn’t know [them]. And it’s just little things, like you know like it kind of wears on a person after a while and it becomes where I even felt it was hard for me to wear a collar because there was so [much] anger that would be directed at it. It’s a little thing but it is part of how we’ve suffered, we’re suffering too ». (Notre traduction)

34 White, H., The Content of the Form. Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).Google Scholar

35 Niezen, R., Public Justice and the Anthropology of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).Google Scholar

36 « a way of configuring cultural memory, linking the story of each individual to the collective wounds of a people » ( Kirmayer, L., « Wrestling with the Angels of History: Memory, Symptom, and Intervention », dans Legacies of Mass Violence: Memory, Symptom, Response, dirs. Hinton, A. and Hinton, D. (sous presse), 44. (Notre traduction)Google Scholar