Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to offer an apology to former
students of Indian residential schools. The treatment of children in Indian
residential schools is a sad chapter in our history.
In the 1870's, the federal government, partly in order to meet its
obligation to educate aboriginal children, began to play a role in the
development and administration of these schools.
Two primary objectives of the residential schools system were to remove
and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions
and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture.
These objectives were based on the assumption aboriginal cultures and
spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal.
Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, "to kill the Indian in
Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has
caused great harm, and has no place in our country.
Most schools were operated as "joint ventures" with Anglican, Catholic,
Presbyterian or United churches.
The government of Canada built an educational system in which very young
children were often forcibly removed from their homes, often taken far from
Many were inadequately fed, clothed and housed.
All were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents,
grandparents and communities.
First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages and cultural practices were
prohibited in these schools.
Tragically, some of these children died while attending residential
schools and others never returned home.
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
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.
The legacy of Indian residential schools has contributed to social
problems that continue to exist in many communities today. It has taken
extraordinary courage for the thousands of survivors that have come forward
to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered.
It is a testament to their resilience as individuals and to the strength
of their cultures.
Regrettably, many former students are not with us today and died never
having received a full apology from the government of Canada.
The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an
impediment to healing and reconciliation.
Therefore, on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians, I
stand before you, in this chamber so central to our life as a country, to
apologize to aboriginal peoples for Canada's role in the Indian residential
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.
We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and
vibrant cultures and traditions, that it created a void in many lives and
communities, and we apologize for having done this.
We now recognize that, in separating children from their families, we
undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and
sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done
We now recognize that, far too often, these institutions gave rise to
abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled, and we apologize for
failing to protect you.
Not only did you suffer these abuses as children, but as you became
parents, you were powerless to protect your own children from suffering the
same experience, and for this we are sorry.
The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too
The burden is properly ours as a government, and as a country.
There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian
residential schools system to ever again prevail.
You have been working on recovering from this experience for a long time
and in a very real sense, we are now joining you on this journey.
The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of
the aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.
We are sorry.
In moving towards healing, reconciliation and resolution of the sad
legacy of Indian residential schools, implementation of the Indian
Residential Schools Settlement agreement began on September 19, 2007.
Years of work by survivors, communities, and aboriginal organizations
culminated in an agreement that gives us a new beginning and an opportunity
to move forward together in partnership.
A cornerstone of the settlement agreement is the Indian Residential
Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
This commission presents a unique opportunity to educate all Canadians on
the Indian residential schools system.
It will be a positive step in forging a new relationship between
aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, a relationship 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.