Canadian PM Apologizes to First Nations for Residential Schools

In an historic moment in Canadian history, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has issued an apology on behalf of the federal government, for the decades of abuse perpetrated against First Nations children who were stolen from their families and enrolled in the nation’s residential schools program.

The apology comes just days after the official June 1st launch of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which will examine the tragic legacy of this dark and little-known aspect of Canadian history.

The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established June 1. It is a court-mandated Commission, which is the result of an agreement amongst residential school survivors and representatives of aboriginal people, churches and the government of Canada. The Commission is charged with the tasks of assisting Canadians to know and understand the truth of our Indian Residential School legacy and of promoting reconciliation through new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect.

The Commission is in the very early stages of its mandate. As the Commissioners we are committed to listening, with open minds and hearts, to the stories and other histories of the Indian Residential School experience and legacy.

“Aboriginal
children were the only children in Canadian history who, over an extended
period of time, were statutorily designated to live in institutions primarily
because of their race.  Large
numbers of school-aged Aboriginal children, at times up to one-third of
them, were sent to residential schools.  In
some communities, this institutionalization continued for decades, and
affected many generations.”

Restoring
Dignity: Responding to Child Abuse in Canadian Institutions
,  Law
Commission of Canada Report, 2000.

page 56.

CANADA’S APOLOGY — UPDATED | 04:35pm EST – The apology has just concluded. It was broadcast live on CBC Newsworld and on CBC.ca. Read a transcript of the PM’s apology here.

Wednesday marked the first time a Canadian prime minister has formally apologized for the physical and sexual abuse that occurred in the now-defunct network of federally financed, church-run residential schools.

In the first formal apology ever delivered by a Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons on Wednesday to say sorry to former students of the government’s native residential school program.

“Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools,” Harper said in Ottawa, surrounded by a small group of aboriginal leaders and former students, some of whom wept as he spoke.

“The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history.

“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” he said to applause.

“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language,” Harper said.

“While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.”

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