Apology to Former Students of Indian Residential Schools

Category: Event
Date: 11 June 2008
Sub Category:Statement of Commitment/Intention
Alternative Names:
  • Apology by Prime Minister Harper on behalf of Canadian Government for the Indian Residential Schools System
  • Subject Matter:Compensation | Cultural Heritage | Education | Reconciliation | Youth
    URL: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=39&Ses=2&DocId=3568890
    Summary Information:
    On 11 June 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, presented a formal apology in the Canadian House of Commons to the former students of Indian residential schools. From the 1870s, over 150,000 aboriginal children were separated from their families and communities in Canada to be put in Indian residential schools (see Hansard 2008).
    Detailed Information:
    Text of the Apology and Speeches The full text of the Apology is available from the House of Commons Hansard (see the URL link above). Prime Minister Harper described the historical circumstances of the establishment of the schools, based on a policy of assimilation which he said was now recognized as wrong and harmful. He spoke of the forcible removal of children from homes and the inadequate care they received in the schools. Traditional languages and cultural practices were not allowed at the schools, and many children died. He stated that "[t]he 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." He referred to the many experiences of "emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect" and the trauma of separation from families. Prime Minister Harper also acknowledged links between the past and present: "The legacy of Indian residential schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today." "The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing and reconciliation. ... The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly ours as a government, and as a country." Prime Minister Harper apologized for these acts and asked for forgiveness. Finally, Prime Minister Harper said that as part of the healing and reconciliation process the Indian Residential Schools Settlement agreement had begun to be implemented. A key aspect of the agreement is the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, "a unique opportunity to educate all Canadians on the Indian residential schools system." And a "positive step in forging a new relationship between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians … based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward together with a renewed understanding that strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us." Broadcast and Response Native activists were present in the House of Commons during the Apology. Twelve aboriginal representatives also sat in a circle immediately in front of the Prime Minister (The Koori Mail). Following the Prime Minister's Apology, speeches were made by the Leader of the Opposition, Stephane Dion; MPs Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton; the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine; the National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Patrick Brazeau; the President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Mary Simon; the President of the Metis National Council, Clem Chartier; and the President of the Native Women's Association of Canada, Beverley Jacobs. In his response, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine said that the Canadian Government had taken "full responsibility for this dreadful chapter in our shared history", that the apology affirmed First Nation peoples as "an indispensable part of the Canadian identity" and that it signified a new respect between Canada’s peoples - the foundation for future reconciliation.

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