PM Harper to apologise for residential schools
A $1.9-billion compensation fund, created after the federal government settled a lawsuit in 2006, has already begun payouts. Every student is receiving some money; those who were abused are getting higher amounts. But some say the process may be more for the perpetrators than the victims.
"The important thing is that they own up to what they did, admit that it is unconscionable, and it was genocide," said Roland Chrisjohn, the director of the Native Studies program at St. Thomas University in Saskatchewan, and a member of the Iroquois nation. "But they are afraid that such an admission would bring with it criminal liability."
Over a century, Canada's government and churches built 130 residential schools across the country. Childrenwere forcibly taken from their parents to instill mainstream language, culture and values. An Indian Affairs official in 1920 said the goal was "to kill the Indian in the child."
"Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed . . . and there is no Indian question," wrote Duncan Campbell Scott, deputy superintendent general of the Indian Affairs department. Native rituals such as pow-wows were outlawed, and entire communities relocated.
A commission concluded in 1996 that the program indelibly damaged generations of aboriginal people and subverted their culture, prompting the last of the schools to be shut down. It outlined a program of healing and redress, but that has been a long time coming.
Undoubtedly the apology is a long time coming and on the Indian Residential School Survivor Society website there are information on live broadcasts of the apology and viewing rooms with counsellors and support on hand.
The televised apology will be followed by video conference events: leaders of the BC Leadership Council wish to address the televised apology with Survivors; and Survivors throughout their territories will be able to engage in dialogue about the apology. Survivors attending the viewings will also have the opportunity to participate in Sharing Circles and moderated discussions if you so choose.
We want Survivors to be aware that the apology may cause you to remember your Residential School experience. You may react in any number of ways. You may be happy to finally get the acknowledgment you've been seeking, you may become numb, you may become angry or you may become triggered. All of these reactions are normal.
The Inuit want specific mention in Harper's apology.
The national organization representing Inuit wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to apologize specifically to Inuit in his formal apology to former residential school students on Wednesday.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon said more than 3,500 Inuit attended residential schools across Canada.
She said she wants Harper to recognize them in the government's official apology, which will be issued Wednesday afternoon in the House of Commons.
"It needs to be sincere, and the sincerity must be judged, I think, by two things: first, [in] the reach and sentiment of the words that are being used, and [in] the way in which an apology figures, I think, in a new and more healthy and more respectful way of acknowledging and fulfilling the relationship," Simon said Monday.
The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission which began its work on June 2nd is one step towards establishing a new relationship between Canada's native peoples and the government.
Headed by Ontario Court of Appeal justice Harry LaForme, the commission has a five-year mandate to create a historical record of the residential-school system. It started its work on June 2.
According to the Assembly of First Nations, the first residential schools were opened in the 1840s and the last one closed as recently as 1996. Most of the approximately 140 schools operated in Western and Northern Canada and the Prairies.
The agreement also provides a $1.9-billion compensation package for survivors living on May 30, 2005. Former students are entitled to $10,000 for the first school year plus $3,000 for each following year. They can also claim additional damages for sexual and physical abuses.