Historical Research at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

University of Toronto Press

From 2008 to 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (trc) pursued a monumental public history project aimed at bringing widespread attention to Indian residential schools. This project resulted in the publication of the commission's six-volume final report that included nearly 2,000 pages on the history of residential schooling in Canada. Although required reading for anyone interested in this history, the trc report itself offers no indication of the methodology used in its composition. This article addresses this omission by drawing on an analysis of publicly available sources, along with the author's experience researching and writing for the trc. While admitting that the commission's primary functions lay elsewhere, the article proposes three main critiques of its historical research. First, it suggests the necessity of recognizing the trc's origins in litigation and the constraints this placed on the story it could tell. Second, the article points to major methodological issues concerning the collection of archival documents and survivor statements and how these informed the content of the commission's historical report. Third, it highlights the trc's inability to account for experience in any space other than the whole of that occupied by contemporaneous Canada.