For over a century, more that 150,000 aboriginal children were arbitrarily removed from their parents and communities and placed into residential schools, under the guise of giving the children a ‘proper’ education. But the intention was far more venal. It was to completely ‘take the Indian’ out of the children — their language, customs and heritage — in order to assimilate them into settler society. The reasoning behind this long-standing government policy was that this would eliminate ‘Canada’s Indian problem’. It was a ‘final solution’.
Protestant and Catholic churches colluded in the century-long profound atrocities inflicted on aboriginal people by the residential school policies. Those running the schools committed physical, psychological and sexual abuse on the children. Children who died were buried in unmarked graves. Many parents never saw their children again, never knew what became of them.
Can we even begin to imagine their agony? The anguish of parents losing their children? The suffering of the children?
“The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history”, said the Prime Minister. But it is much more than a ‘sad chapter’. It is also testament that our nation was built on the blood of the people whose lives and lands we stole.
Have we Canadians learned from our past?
Not enough, for we are still perpetrating injustices against the people whose only ‘crime’ was that they were inhabiting this land we so coveted — a land rich in natural resources which we exploit at their expense.
The federal apology is a start but we still have a very long way to go. Until we expeditiously and justly resolve the numerous long-outstanding land claims; respect the human rights of all First Nations peoples in Canada and stop building and mining on their land without consultation and permission; and until we alleviate the deplorable, toxic conditions on most native reserves, this federal apology and the settlement monies paid to residential school survivors lack sincerity. These are merely tokens to assuage our collective guilt.
Stephen Harper’s apology can begin the healing when we begin to address those issues — when we right the wrongs we continue to perpetuate on our aboriginal people to this day — and when more Canadians, not just First Nations peoples, become active participants in the newly created Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“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.”
However, for the Inuit of Labrador the federal apology rings hollow. (I heard something on CBC Newsworld earlier that aboriginal people of PEI and another province were also not included because those regions were not part of Canada at the time the residential schools were started, but I can’t find the link to this anywhere. So I don’t have the facts on this and I didn’t hear the entire report…)
- Main page
- Analysis, background, history
- FAQs: Aboriginal Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- About the commission and its purpose
- Commission panel
- About the members of the commission
- Indian residential schools
- The history of Canada’s residential schools and education policy for aboriginal peoples
- Prime minister’s statement of apology
- Full text of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s address to Parliament, June 2008
- Timeline of aboriginal education in Canada
- Video: Stolen children
- From The National: Can Truth and Reconciliation Commission start the healing?