Truth and Indignation: Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools

Truth and Indignation: Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools

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By Ronald Niezen
Teaching Culture: UTP Ethnographies for the Classroom
University of Toronto Press, Higher Education Division © 2013
World Rights
192 Pages
ISBN 9781442606302
Published Oct 2013
ISBN 9781442607729
Published Nov 2013
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442606326
Published Oct 2013
Full purchase $21.95

Truth and Indignation offers the first close and critical assessment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as it is unfolding. Niezen uses interviews with survivors and oblate priests and nuns, as well as testimonies, texts, and visual materials produced by the Commission to raise important questions: What makes Canada's TRC different from others around the world? What kinds of narratives are emerging and what does that mean for reconciliation, transitional justice, and conceptions of traumatic memory? What happens to the ultimate goal of reconciliation when a large part of the testimony—that of nuns, priests, and government officials—is scarcely evident in the Commission's proceedings? Thoughtful, provocative, and uncompromising in the need to tell the "truth" as he sees it, Niezen offers an important contribution to our understanding of TRC processes in general, and the Canadian experience in particular.

Ronald Niezen is the Katherine A. Pearson Chair in Civil Society and Public Policy at McGill University. He has published widely in the area of indigenous peoples and human rights and is the author, most recently, of Public Justice and the Anthropology of Law (2010) and The Rediscovered Self: Indigenous Identity and Cultural Justice (2009).
List of Abbreviations
List of Figures

1. The Sense of Injustice
2. The Unfolding
3. The Process
4. Templates and Exclusions
5. Testimony
6. Traumatic Memory
7. Witnessing History
8. Solitudes

A rare combination of intellectual poetry and absolutely necessary social science. This study of Canada's attempts to come to public and national terms with one of its darkest legacies can and must be read on a number of different levels: as a superb and sophisticated ethnographic encounter with the ongoing Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), as an innovative reflection on the ambiguous ways in which law constitutes its multiple and shifting objects, and as a profound meditation on the ultimate limits of public categories to capture, shape, and mobilize sentiment on a grand, social scale.

Mark Goodale, George Mason University

A unique chronicle that unsettles our tidy assumptions. Posing questions surrounding injustice and recognition, and the wider implications of the impact of the residential schools, Niezen pushes the boundaries of our understanding of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission can and should mean.

Joanna Quinn, Centre for Transitional Justice, Western University

A skeptical yet sympathetic analysis of how Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission creates narrative, history, victims, and perpetrators. Niezen interviewed priests, brothers, and nuns as well as former inmates of Canada's residential schools, and sat in on hearings. A brilliant book.

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, Wilfrid Laurier University

Truth and Indignation is the first attempt by an eloquent observer to document what has become of the Truth and Reconciliation process. Oddly, the commission almost resembles the Indian schools themselves—a cruel, ambiguous, institutional response to conflict and failure. Niezen's book is a crisp analysis of an unfolding drama that seems certain to end badly.

Blacklock's Reporter

This is a sensitive, sometimes abstract, exploration of the moral and practical terrain of this truth commission, and all truth commissions. There is serious, almost abrasive intellectual honesty in the text. The author avoids the temptation just to reproduce the indignation evoked from testimonies, and to give simple expression to what he describes as 'a kind of persistent, nagging, sympathetic sense of wrong' that accompanies any thinking on residential schools. Certainly responding to that sense of wrong is one's first instinct. After all, as Niezen neatly summarizes, the schools represent 'quite possibly the worst crime in private life, the sexual abuse of children, applied in the context of one of the worst wrongs in public life, the purposeful, policy-driven elimination of a people.' But Niezen opts for a clinical remove from the moral content of the story, in order to observe the TRC more critically. There was an easier book to write, but Truth and Indignation is more nuanced, more challenging, and as a result more stimulating.

Literary Review of Canada

This well-written and thoughtful study provides a timely, critical perspective on the TRC. In so doing, it fits well with other critical writing on state redress that attends to the limits and problems associated with the practice.

Dialogues on Historical Justice and Memory

Truth and Indignation is the result of a detailed research project that examined the still-ongoing work of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is respectful both of the work and the participants and yet highly critical of the enterprise. It is a tremendous step forward from a scholarly human rights culture that has been overly awed by the truth commission phenomenon and far too slow in probing beneath the surfaces.

Human Rights Quarterly

Niezen was faced with the challenge of writing about events that were still taking place. His ability to shape his narrative as something that is flowing and changing works. He has taken an important critical perspective on the TRC rather than simply reporting events.