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The TRC is pleased to share this day when Charlie Hunter returns home. While there is an aura of celebration to this day, we also recognize that this is a day founded on the tragedy of a lost child and of parents left without the right to grieve properly. For that reason we express our condolences and best wishes to Charlie's parents and brothers and children.
When Charlie tragically died at residential school at the age of 13 in 1974, neither the school nor the government did the right thing. They did not send him home. They should have. Those charged with making that decision did not ask themselves the question that should have guided everything they did with, to and for the children. That question is, "What would I want done if this were my child?"
What happened to Charlie is unfortunately not unique. Hundreds, if not thousands, of children who were taken away to residential schools never returned home. That is one of the saddest, untold legacies of the system. The Missing Children's Project at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is committed to discovering how many died, where they are buried, and letting the families know. What the families wish to do with that knowledge is a decision only they can make.
Charlie's sister Joyce performed an amazing feat. She brought this story to the public's attention after being denied by government, and made sure the right thing was done. She is to be commended. But she also brought to the public's attention that there is important unfinished business concerning residential schools. There are many other children who must be found. We are dedicated to finding them. We are pleased that Charlie has made it home.
Thirty-seven years have passed since then 13 year-old Charlie Hunter died while trying to save a fellow student who slipped through the ice on a lake at St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany.
At that time, Charlie never made the journey home. Without any consultation with his parents, a decision was made to bury the child in Moosonee, some 515 km away from his home, Peawanuk First Nation, located in north-western Ontario.
On March 5, 2011, the plight of Charlie's family to bring their boy home was the subject of a story printed in the Toronto Star, written by acclaimed news reporter and author, Peter Edwards. The story resulted in an outpouring of public support raising funds to make it all possible to bring Charlie home to his family.
The service held on August 17th in Peawanuk was a bitter sweet event. An emotion filled day, with tears, singing, drumming and even some laughter. All of the siblings spoke including Charlie's eldest brother George who at the end of the service sang a song he wrote about his experiences at residential school entitled: "Why did you send me to school?" Charlie's parents Mike and Pauline also spoke at the service. Charlie's father said of the day: "Today we want to bury everything that we've been through over the years and move on from here..."
In addition to the family, invited guests spoke at the service including Alvin Fiddler who delivered a message on behalf of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair. Mr. Fiddler also delivered a message from relative Robert Hunter, a youth from Peawanuk who is participating in a 2200 km walk from Cochrane to the next TRC Event in Halifax. Robert's message was that he is walking for the Survivors who never made it home, including Charlie.
Among the invited guests were two politicians who assisted the family manage their way through the government administrative process involved with Charlie's repatriation, Charlie Angus, MP (Timmins-James Bay) and MPP Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay) both of whom apologized to the family - acknowledging all of the challenges they encountered in dealing with government over the years, leading up to the day their son returned home.
The day was truly an expression of reconciliation.