Abuse at Native residential schools in Canada
Federal government apologies: 1998 & 2008
1998-JAN-06: Ministry of Indian Affairs apology:
According to OneWorld.org:
"In a ceremony in
Canada's Parliamentary building,...aboriginal leaders and government ministers
pledged to work together to try to heal the damage done to aboriginal people and
their culture. Indian leaders condemned the government for its 80-year program
of taking children from native families and sending them to often abusive
"Minister of Indian Affairs Jane Stewart read a 'Statement of
Reconciliation' that acknowledged the damage done to the native
population...''Attitudes of racial and cultural superiority led to a suppression
of aboriginal culture and values,' she said. 'As a country, we are burdened by
past actions that resulted in weakening the identity of aboriginal peoples,
suppressing their languages and cultures, and outlawing spiritual practices. We
must recognize the impact of these actions on the once self- sustaining nations
that were disaggregated, disrupted, limited or even destroyed by the
dispossession of traditional territory, by the relocation of aboriginal people,
and by some provisions of the Indian Act.'
With the apology came a $250 million fund (CDN; about $ 165
million in U.S. funds at the time) to redress some of the problems caused by the
residential school policy." 1
2008-JUN-12: Formal apology by the federal government in the House of
The day before: The Globe and Mail newspaper commented that
Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton, ON-Conservative) "spoke
sarcastically of the size of the residential schools settlement on a CFRA talk
radio program on the day before the official apology." He is reported
as having said:
"Along with this apology comes another four billion dollars in
compensation for those who partook in the residential schools. Some of us are
starting to ask, are we really getting value for all of this money and is money
really going to solve the problem?" 2
Later that day, he Emailed a statement about his comment:
"I stated that aboriginals deserve protection under Canada's
human-rights laws and that the record dollars that the government is spending on
aboriginals should reach the people in need," the e-mailed statement said.
The formal apology: According to the Globe, Prime Minister
Harper apologized in the House of Commons. This is
the first time that a Prime Minister has given a formal apology: "For the
sexual and physical abuse that occurred at the schools." He also expressed
remorse "For the efforts to wipe out aboriginal languages and culture in the
name of assimilation."
Harper referred to what is called the "generational effect of
the schools" in which victims of the residential schools matured without
proper parenting and later had difficulties parenting their own children.
"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. 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
"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 aboriginal peoples for
failing them so badly."
Response by leaders of opposition parties: Liberal Leader
Stéphane Dion said:
"Today's apology is about a past that should have been
completely different. But it must be also about the future. It must be about
collective reconciliation and fundamental changes. ... It must be about moving
forward together, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, into a future based on respect.
It is about trying to find in each of us some of the immense courage that we see
in the eyes of those who have survived."
NDP Leader Jack Layton denounced the residential schools program as "racist,"
and referred to the official apology:
"It is the moment where we as a Parliament and as a country
assume the responsibility for one of the most shameful eras of our history. "It
is the moment to finally say we are sorry and it is the moment where we start to
begin a shared future on equal footing through mutual respect and truth."
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe offered his own apology, but said that
action is also needed:
"This is something that must be done concretely by the
government …The federal government has not invested enough for young aboriginal
Opposition parties highlight the government's hypocrisy:
Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton took this occasion to criticize the
Conservative party for refusing to endorse the recently passed United
Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The previous
Liberal federal government had played an leadership role in promoting and
negotiating this Declaration. It took 22 years of intensive negotiation before
it was finally passed. Recently, the Liberal party was thrown out of office due
to gross financial corruption, and replaced by a Conservative government who
reversed Canada's position on the declaration. When the vote was taken on
2007-SEP-13, 143 nations voted in favor of the declaration and four opposed it
-- Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. At least three of the
latter -- Australia, Canada and the U.S., have histories of repeated cultural
and physical genocide against their own aboriginal people in past centuries.
Eleven countries abstained. 4,5
Native leaders respond:
In an unprecedented gesture by Parliament, five aboriginal leaders were invited
to sit in a circle on the floor of the House of Commons, with six former
residential school students who stood with them.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, who was a victim of
residential school abuse said:
"Brave survivors, through the telling of their painful
stories, have stripped white supremacy of its authority and legitimacy. The
memories of residential schools sometimes cut like merciless knives at our
souls. This day will help us to put that pain behind us."
Mary Simon, a leader of the Inuit Tapiriit people spoke directly to the Prime
Minister in the Inuktitut language saying:
"I wanted to demonstrate to you that our language and culture
is still strong, ...There have been times in this long journey when I despaired
that this would never happen. But after listening to the Prime Minister and the
leaders of the political parties, I'm filled with hope and compassion for my
fellow aboriginal Canadians."
According to the Globe article:
"On the grounds of Parliament Hill, the apology was well
received by the couple of hundred people gathered to watch history on a giant
video screen. Some were aboriginal, some were not. A few cried and hugged each
other, but most watched in somber silence."
"Lance Migwans brought his four-year-old son, Braiden, to
Ottawa from Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron to hear the apology."
" 'Everything that has happened still trickles down to our
children, and will trickle down to his children and maybe his grandchildren,' he
said brushing the top of Braiden's head."
"Julie Marion was also outside the Centre Block to hear the
apology. Her mother and aunts all attended residential schools."
"Ms. Marion, garbed in a traditional buckskin dress, said
there was no one willing to teach her the ways of her Mi'kmaq culture [in the
Maritime provinces] and she was warned as a child not to tell people she was
Indian. She was forced to learn the traditions herself as an adult."
" 'It has been a very long time that the elders have been
waiting for this,' she said quietly. 'I am surprised that they are actually
telling the truth about some of the things that have happened'." 2
If you know of any government apologies that we have missed, please
let us know.
- Mark Bourrie, "Rights: Canada Apologizes For Abuse of Native Peoples," at:
- Bill Curry & Gloria Galloway, "We are sorry," Globe and Mail, 2008-JUN-12,
- "PM cites 'sad chapter' in apology for residential schools ," CBC News,
- "Jubilation as UN approves indigenous peoples declaration," Survival
International, 2007-SEP-13, at:
- Text of the "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples"
is available at:
http://www.survival-international.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require
software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
Copyright © 2000 to 2008 by
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUN-03
Latest update: 2008-JUL-06
Author: B.A. Robinson