Canada apologizes for abuse of aboriginal children in schools (DPA)
Thursday June 12th, 2008
Montreal - Two years after the Canadian government reached a 1.9-billion-dollar settlement over the abuse of aboriginal children in special schools, Canadas prime minister formally apologized Wednesday for the mental, physical and sexual suffering that took place in compulsory schools which aimed to erase their indigenous culture. I come before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said addressing a packed House of Commons. The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history."
Hundreds of residential school survivors, some wearing traditional aboriginal costumes, had filled the parliament gallery. Hundreds more stood outside watching the proceedings on giant television screens.
For more than a century, between the 1870s and late 1970s, Indian residential schools separated over 150,000 aboriginal children from their families and communities, Harper said.
Two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their home, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture, to kill the Indian in the child," Harper said.
The church-run schools were established with the assumption that the aboriginal culture was unable to adapt to the "modern" world and the aboriginals stood a better chance of surviving if they converted to Christianity and learned to speak English or French.
But many students lived in substandard conditions and endured horrific mental, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their guardians, Harper acknowledged.
It is estimated that almost half of the children died of disease and malnutrition. Many native groups have called the residential school policy cultural genocide, which they blame for ongoing problems of higher-than-average suicide rates, drug abuse and alcoholism among Canadas 1.2 million aboriginal people.
Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, that it has caused great harm and has no place in our country," Harper said to a round of applause. To the approximately 80,000 living former students and all family members and communities the government of Canada now recognizes that it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes and we apologize for having done this."
The leader of Canadas official opposition, Stéphane Dion, also added his apology.
As the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the party that was in government for more than seventy years of the 20th century I acknowledge our role and our shared responsibility in this tragedy," Dion said. Im deeply sorry."
Phil Fontaine, who heads the Assembly of First Nations, one of the main aboriginal associations in Canada, and himself a survivor of the residential school system, said the apology signifies a new dawn in the relationship between the aboriginal people and the rest of Canada.
For the generations that will follow us we bear witness today, in this house that our survival as First Nations people in this land is affirmed forever," Fontaine said addressing the parliament. Never again will this house consider us an Indian problem for just for being who we are. Finally we heard Canada say it is sorry."
Fontaine, who had revealed being sexually abused in the residential school system, said the experience still haunted him today.
Memories of residential schools cut like merciless knives at our souls," Fontaine said, fighting back tears. But I reach out to all Canadians in this spirit of reconciliation."
The United States government has yet to make similar overtures for its treatment of native Americans in the US version of residential schools.
As part of the 1.9-billion-dollar Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2006, the Canadian government also formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.
The money was paid out to tens of thousands of adults who survived the schools.