Canada apologizes for killing the 'Indian in the child' (Roundup)
Jun 11, 2008, 23:37 GMT
Montreal - Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday formally apologized for the horrific treatment of aboriginal children in compulsory boarding schools, conceding the institutions were intended to 'kill the Indian in the child.'
The formal apology before a packed House of Commons that included hundreds of residential school survivors came two years after the Canadian government reached a 1.9-billion-dollar settlement with tens of thousands of indigenous Canadians who were forced to attend the schools.
Many students lived in substandard conditions and endured mental, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their guardians, Harper acknowledged.
It is estimated that almost half of the children died of disease and malnutrition.
The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history,' Harper said. 'Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, that it has caused great harm and has no place in our country.'
He addressed his apology '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,' he said.
The apology carried an echo of a similar overture in February by Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who apologized to Australian aboriginals for their suffering in compulsory boarding schools.
The United States government has yet to make similar overtures for its treatment of native Americans in the US version of residential schools.
Stephane Dion, the leader of Canadas official opposition, the Liberal Party, which was in power for more than 70 years in the 20th Century, acknowledged the party's 'role and our shared responsibility in this tragedy.'
Im deeply sorry,' he said.
Phil Fontaine, who heads the Assembly of First Nations, one of the main aboriginal associations in Canada, said the apology signified a new dawn in the relationship between the aboriginal people and the rest of Canada.
For the generations that will follow us, we bear witness today, in this house that our survival as First Nations people in this land is affirmed forever,' Fontaine said, addressing the parliament. Never again will this house consider us an Indian problem for just being who we are.'
Hundreds of residential school survivors, some wearing traditional aboriginal costumes, filled the parliament gallery. Hundreds more stood outside watching the proceedings on giant television screens.
For more than a century, between the 1870s and late 1970s, Indian residential schools separated more than 150,000 aboriginal children from their families and communities, Harper said.
The primary objectives were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their home, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture, to kill the Indian in the child,' Harper said.
The church-run schools were established with the assumption that the aboriginal culture was unable to adapt to the 'modern' world and the aboriginals stood a better chance of surviving if they converted to Christianity and learned to speak English or French.
Many native groups have called the practice cultural genocide, which they blame for ongoing problems of higher-than-average suicide rates, drug abuse and alcoholism among Canadas 1.2 million aboriginal people.
Fontaine, the indigenous leader, was himself a survivor of the residential school system, and has testified in the past to being sexually abused there.
Fighting back tears, he described to parliament on Wednesday how the experience still haunted him.
'Memories of residential schools cut like merciless knives at our souls,' Fontaine said. 'But I reach out to all Canadians in this spirit of reconciliation.'
'Finally, we heard Canada say it is sorry,' Fontaine said.
As part of the 1.9-billion-dollar Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2006, the Canadian government also formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.
The money was paid out to tens of thousands of adults who survived the schools.