Canada apologizes for residential school abuse

Published September 1, 2008

Prime Minister Harper presents a framed Statement of Apology to 104-year-old Margeurite Wabano in the House of Commons

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons on June 11, facing leaders of Canada’s aboriginal community, it was described as one of the most profound moments in Canadian history.

Hundreds packed the visitor’s gallery and hundreds more stood on the lawn in front of the House of Commons to witness the apology on giant screens.

The prime minister apologized to former students of Indian residential schools. “The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history,” he said.

In the 1870s, 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.

Harper said that “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 the child’.

“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” he said. First nations, Inuit and Metis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools.

“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 schools system,” he said.

Following the prime minister’s speech, the leaders of the other political parties also offered their apologies.

Leaders of the Assembly of First Nations, Metis and other aboriginal communities were given an opportunity to respond, and did so passionately.


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