OTTAWA -- The federal government will tell aboriginal people today that it is "deeply sorry" for the physical and sexual abuse suffered by children in Canada's residential-school system.
The long-awaited apology will be made in a lengthy "statement of reconciliation" delivered by Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart in a noon ceremony on Parliament Hill as part of the government's response to the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
In the statement, the government will express "profound regret" for past actions that negatively impacted the political, economic and social elements of aboriginal society. Then Ottawa will go further, talking about the system that, between the 1930s and the 1980s, removed aboriginal children from their communities and put them in schools, where hundreds endured sexual and physical abuse.
And for the first time the government will make a clear apology -- something aboriginal leaders say is long overdue.
The statement is expected to read: "The government of Canada acknowledges the role it played in the development and administration of these schools. Particularly to those individuals who experienced the tragedy of physical and sexual abuse at residential schools, and who have carried this burden believing that in some way they must be responsible, we wish to emphasize that what you experienced was not your fault and should never have happened.
"For those of you who suffered this tragedy, we are deeply sorry."
Along with the apology, the government is committing $350-million to healing initiatives that will be run by aboriginal communities. The money will be spent on programs such as counselling and language training. The government's response says the funding should be delivered "in the broadest possible fashion to all aboriginal people" upon whom the residential-school system had an impact.
In addition to the healing fund, there will be about $250-million spent in in the next fiscal year to develop initiatives discussed in Ottawa's response, such as economic development and aboriginal governance. Part of that money will fulfill Liberal Red Book promises including $25-million to expand on-reserve programs for early-childhood development.
About half of the $246-million will be found by moving funds from within the budgets of Indian Affairs and other departments, or by taking money from government programs such as the Child Tax Benefit, which will free a portion that the government spends on social assistance on reserves.
This will be Ottawa's first response to the royal commission since it released its 3,500-page report in November, 1996. The $58-million study -- the most expensive of its kind in Canada -- recommended hundreds of sweeping changes to Ottawa's dealings with aboriginal communities, and said the government should increase its annual spending for natives by as much as $2-billion by the turn of the century.
The centrepiece of the government's response to the commission is the reconciliation statement, which is intended to mark a break from Ottawa's past attempts to assimilate aboriginal people and at the same time recognize the contribution made by all aboriginal people to Canada's development.
The statements begins: "The ancestors of First Nations, and Métis lived on this continent long before explorers from other continents first came to North America."
It goes on to talk about the role of aboriginal people, and specifically mentions Louis Riel, the Métis leader hanged for treason in 1885, by saying the government will "look for ways of . . . reflecting Louis Riel's proper place in Canada's history." Métis groups have lobbied hard for a pardon for Mr. Riel in the past, but MPs voted against granting one in the House of Commons in 1996.
The response, packaged in a document called Gathering Strength, will be based on four general themes: renewing the partnership, strengthening aboriginal governance, developing a new fiscal relationship, and supporting strong communities.
The government is pitching the response as a first step to launch a new relationship. Other than the "statement of reconciliation", it is short on the specifics, which will have to be negotiated later with aboriginal groups. The 40-page document talks generally about working toward self-government and promoting economic development, about building on new and historic treaties and even a public-education campaign to "build more balance, realistic and informed perspectives with respect to Aboriginal people."
Beyond the money committed for the next fiscal year, the government also says in the report that it will consider aboriginal components to new federal programs and increased funding for native groups.
The commission also recommended the federal government create an aboriginal parliament and abolish the Department of Indian Affairs. In these subjects, the response is silent except to say that the government is "open to further discussion on the department and institutional arrangements."
The Canadian Government has apologised to indigenous people for actions that have had a negative political, economic and social impact on its Aboriginal society.
The Government, through its Indian Affairs Minister, has expressed its profound regret for the abuse.
The long awaited apology to Aboriginal people in Canada came as part of a "statement of reconciliation" delivered by the Minister, Jane Stewart.
The Government also expressed profound regret for the residential school system which separated Aboriginal children from their communities and put them into schools where hundreds endured sexual and physical abuse.
The Canadian Government has promised $350 million for Aboriginal welfare programs.
Mr Fischer has told ABC Radio the Australian Government would respond to the issue of Aboriginal reconciliation in its own way.
"Australia is not Canada, there are differences," he said. "And of course I express my deep personal regret for a lot that went wrong over the decades."
"But you've also got to remember a lot of the measures taken by the churches who now regret those steps - they were acting in what they believed were the best interests of Aboriginal children at that time."
Let the grovelling begin. That, at any rate, seems to be the philosophy of Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart. On Wednesday, she rose in the House of Commons to read a "statement of reconciliation." Ostensibly, she was apologizing for one specific public policy: the removal of native children from their reserves in the 1950s and '60s in order to send them to boarding schools that promised to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream. If that were all the statement said, it would be reasonable enough. But unfortunately, it implies much more than it says and what it implies is an insult to the rest of the Canadian population.
Two principles should govern public apologies. Apologies are due only to living people. Wrongs are suffered by individuals and restitution can only be made to those individuals. That's why it was appropriate to apologize to and compensate Japanese-Canadians whose property was seized when they were interned during the Second World War and why it would be inappropriate to apologize to and compensate the Acadians of today for the expulsions of the 1750s. When the great-great-great-grandchildren of someone who was maltreated ask for an apology, they are engaging not in the pursuit of justice, but in ethnic muscle-flexing.
The Indians sent to boarding schools satisfy both conditions. The federal government violated both the right of Indian parents to educate their children as they saw fit, and the people still living, whose rights were violated. An apology directed to that specific transgression by the federal government would be perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, Stewart's statement is neither direct nor specific. In its fourth paragraph, the apology makes reference to "actions" that weakened the identity of aboriginal peoples. "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...''
Now what is that supposed to mean? It sounds as if, embedded in a reasonable and limited statement of regret for one particular policy, has been buried a more general apology for the settlement of this continent by Europeans. That is utterly, absolutely unjustified.
As last week's horrible ice storm reminded us, the northern half of North America is one of the harshest, most inclement corners of the globe. It's cold, it's unpredictable and it's deadly. On this punishing terrain, European settlers built one of the wealthiest and most technologically sophisticated societies on Earth -- also one of the fairest and most humane. Disasters such as the storm remind us of how breathtakingly difficult that accomplishment was and how fragile in many ways it remains. Yet we did it.
This achievement benefited native people every bit as much as the descendants of those settlers. If, by some freak of history, the European settlement of North America had never occurred, native people who are today living in heated houses, travelling by truck and Ski-Doo, treating sickness with modern medicines (at no charge to themselves) and eating hygienic food, would instead by living in miserable frozen shanties, walking in unsoled shoes from one frozen hunting ground to another, desperately attempting to catch their dinner with stone-tipped arrows, and dying by the thousands every time the wind gusted from the north.
It's often said the North American Indians lived in greater harmony with the environment than we do. That's quite wrong. The ancestors of today's Indians arrived in the Americas 12,000 years ago and promptly exterminated almost all of the continent's large mammals, from its indigenous horses to its giant sloths. (They also engaged in genocidal warfare with each other, but that's another story.) The Indians didn't live in harmony with the environment; they lived at the mercy of it. It was the European settlement that rescued them.
The descendants of the Europeans have had the good taste never to demand a thank you from the descendants of the aboriginals. They shouldn't demand it now. But at the very least they are entitled to refuse to bow and scrape and abase themselves for the sin of having tamed and civilized this inhospitable land.
I want you to imagine the unimaginable.
Imagine what would happen to the good and well-heeled folk of Calgary's ritzy Mount Royal neighborhood if one day out of the blue, strange men speaking a foreign language swooped down on the area and stole away every child in the community.
A knock would come to the stately oak doors and upon them being opened, unknown men with full federal authority search the residence for every school-aged child.
Children who are playing out on the street or in the park are simply rounded up and loaded onto buses or planes and taken hundreds of miles away. They are not permitted to pack a bag or say goodbye to their mother or father.
The children are then taken to a boarding school where they are forbidden to speak the language they learned in their homes and are beaten if they do. They cannot pray the way they were taught for fear of more beatings. Their hair is cut and their spirits are broken. Many of them are sexually abused.
Then, some five years later or even longer, those same children are flown back home and dropped off where they were found.
What do you think those confused and wounded kids would find? The happy, loving home they left? Not likely. Rather, many of the once-stable homes would be utterly devastated and unrecognizable.
The effect on the parents of losing their children -- and for many their purpose in life -- for so long has turned them to drink and to taking drugs. The parents are depressed, lethargic and angry as well.
Likewise, the children are depressed, confused and don't know who they are or who the people known as their parents are. Everyone is so unrecognizable.
Sound like a horror story?
Well that is precisely what happened to generations of Canada's First Nations for many decades. No neighborhood in Canada could or would remain unscathed if such a thing happened to it, no matter how sophisticated and well-equipped that community was or is.
It's important for non-Native Canadians to try to imagine just what the mandatory residential school policy towards Canada's Native people was really like.
This was not like sending a child off to boarding school to polish off Johnny's grammar and help him make some valuable friends for the future. Often children would be returned home and would not be able to speak the same language as their parents. Talk about a communication gap.
Residential schools were designed to wipe out any memory of who Natives really were and to turn them into little white-bread Indians.
The many readers who have called to criticize the federal government for apologizing to aboriginal people last week for the abuse suffered by thousands of Natives at federal residential schools need to go through this little imaginary exercise.
The desperate legacy caused by the Canadian government's policy to remove Native kids from their homes and send them to residential schools in order to assimilate them into mainstream society is sadly evident in virtually every aboriginal community in the country. Alcoholism, drug addiction, joblessness, depression and suicide are just some of the social ills which exist at far higher rates than in society in general.
It's why the government's $350-million healing program is not out of line.
Many people say aboriginal communities will never fully heal -- that it's too late. Imagining a bright future for Canada's First Nations, however, is really not so difficult. It's certainly much easier than trying to imagine going through what they went through.
February 2, 1998
Link Byfield - Letter From The Publisher, page 2
[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
How long do you think it will be before some rising star in our lamentably brainless liberal media discovers the gigantic political fraud that has been perpetrated on the legacy of church-run Indian boarding schools? The government's January 7 "apology" to natives amounts to a defamation of the hundreds of people who gave their lives to these worthwhile institutions, and it should not be allowed to stand.
For readers who missed our feature story on the subject last week, reporter Patrick Donnelly checked around with people who (a) had been at the schools, and (b) had not testified about them to the recent Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (otherwise known as the It's All Your Fault Commission). And sure enough, virtually every one of the half-dozen alumni he found expressed considerable praise and respect for the institutions, and scant sympathy for Ottawa's $350-million "apology" for how they were run.
Now I have to admit that neither I nor Mr. Donnelly was present when a great many natives poured out their grief about the schools to the It's All Your Fault Commission a few years ago. Had I been there, perhaps I would have been convinced the free boarding schools really were the Canadian equivalent of Auschwitz. But I doubt it. None of the witnesses was cross-examined. None of the four churches which ran the schools was there to defend them (senior clergymen lost their nerve for this sort of work years ago). And while one of the fault commissioners concedes that "attendance for many people was not an unhappy experience" (a curiously negative way of describing something positive), the commission's dire conclusions are nevertheless grossly categorical.
In fact the conclusions sound as hysterical as some of the charges against the schools which have surfaced in the media - never challenged, of course, never checked, never doubted for a second - for that would be too insensitive. For instance the allegation by one native in BC that children were beaten to death. For instance the widely publicized accusation by another native that southern politicians were flown north to watch the Indian children at a school on Hudson Bay get electrocuted by demonic nuns. All of this garbage is swallowed whole and puked back out by our credulous media.
When I see these things I wonder, "Is there anything - anything at all - that these idiots wouldn't believe?" For example, we have often been told that Phil Fontaine, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, claims to have been sexually abused at a church boarding school. With the right reporter, he waxes very melancholy and soulful about it. Well, maybe he was abused - such things certainly can happen. But what does he mean by "abuse"? Was he taken into the principal's office and sodomized, or did he just suspect the priest supervising the boys' shower might be gay? Who knows. He doesn't return our calls. Has anyone ever asked him?
Any reporter worth his pay would bring two instincts to this story. The first is a demand for clarity. To what extent are we talking about sexual abuse, and to what extent physical assault; or are we talking only about the kind of corporal punishment which was an ordinary part of growing up prior to the 1960s? If credible, were these abuses exceptions to the rule in institutions which were generally benign, or were they typical? Were children sentenced to these places, or did parents and children generally approve of them? Were there reasons (apart from "cultural genocide") that speaking native languages might have been forbidden; and was it forbidden in all schools at all times if the parents wanted the children to learn English - or are immersion language programs always "cultural genocide"?
The second red light that should be flashing in any reporter's mind could be called the "victim" alarm. Anyone - and certainly not just Indians - who blames all his woes on someone else should not be trusted. Maybe all his self-destructive impulses and foolish behaviour really did arise because someone else mistreated him. However, there is no way of knowing this, and no reason to assume it's true. What he is saying is that he has no free will. Well, if he doesn't, neither did his alleged oppressor, so why are we even talking about it?
One final point. If it is wrong to send children to schools whose religious beliefs contradict those of their parents (such is the questionable charge against the Indian boarding schools), why are children of Christian parents today expected to send their children to public schools? One quarter of our population professes that the most important thing any child can know is that Jesus is Lord. The public schools say otherwise. Is this "cultural genocide" too? I await my apology - and free religious schooling for my children.
The Montreal Gazette
Sunday, February 15, 1998
Canada's response to the residential-schools travesty, as detailed by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, was not an apology for its actions. Nor was the dollar amount anywhere near what is needed to repair the damage caused by this government's policy. Words are important in any healing process, and Canada failed to deliver. Saying that it is "deeply sorry" and expressing "profound regret" may sound sincere, but the carefully worded statement from Canada avoided the term apology and, therefore, any legal implications of the use of the word. Therein lies the lack of sincerity.
In all its magnanimity, the federal government has earmarked $350 million for the "healing" of this great harm. This is far less than what was recommended by the royal commission and $150 million less than the $500 million that Canada paid for canceling a helicopter contract. It appears that Canada does not want to recognize the damage it has done. The royal commission's report very carefully detailed the history of residential schools that Canada forced aboriginal children to attend for decades. The intent of those schools was to remove the children from their parents and their culture so they could more readily join mainstream Canadian society.
The damage was devastating. The children were not allowed to speak their own languages and were punished when they did. They did not have the nurturing of a family and were stripped of any pride in their culture. Moreover, many were physically and sexually abused by the people who were hired to teach them and care for their well-being.
The results were a lost generation, victims of a failed experiment, left feeling discarded by the Euro-Canadian society. Editorial comments in the mainstream press have recognized the reluctance of the government to apologize officially and the press has criticized the government severely - but not severely enough. Their editorial comments have been tempered with the reminder that although these offences have been perpetrated against our people, "the residential schools were established with the best of intentions, given the times."
This is absolutely wrong.
The expression "best of intentions" was just another attempt to hide the racist attitudes that permeate Canadian policy toward aboriginal peoples. In "those times," paternalistic attitudes were based on the superiority of the non-Indians over the Indians. It was the destruction of the Indians that was the goal, not the improvement.
The press has failed to accept the fact that these schools were established with the firm intention of removing the essence of who an Indian is. Children were deliberately taken away from their parents in the most formative and vulnerable years of their lives, when children learn to be part of a family and in turn learn how to parent.
This process was simply an act of genocide. Many will withdraw from the use of the G-word because "My God, this is Canada." Well, if it looks and smells like genocide, so it must be.
According to the Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948, which is international law and was signed by Canada in 1952, genocide is defined, in part, as causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on a group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Canada's residential-school policy fits these descriptions and was practiced when the convention was in force.
While the physical and sexual abuse of our children was a crime against the Canadian Criminal Code, the crime of genocide is a crime against humanity. Canada should be responsible for the complete and total cost of reparations for this crime.
The statement by Jane Stewart, minister of Indian affairs, falls far short of recognizing the genocidal actions of her country. The compensation package offered will never repair the damage done to the aboriginal peoples in Canada.
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples had better and more substantial solutions to the devastating effects of residential schools. They cost more, but the violations of the Convention on Genocide can call for a trial by the International Court. That's something natives would like to see, but Canada might want to settle out of court.