Report alleges government and clergy knew Indian children were beaten, sexually assaulted and even killed at the schools

Vancouver Sun
Friday June 27, 1997, Page A3
Stewart Bell

[Please 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. -- S.I.S.I.S.]

As tribal leaders shed tears over the latest victim of BC's notorious Indian residential schools, the Canadian government vowed Thursday that dealing with the lingering effects of the boarding schools would be a top federal priority.

At a meeting of chiefs in Vancouver, BC's highest ranking Indian Affairs official, John Watson, acknowledged for the first time that residential schools were part of a failed attempt to assimilate aboriginal children into white society.

And he announced that the government was committed to helping those victimized by the schools, through treatment and "spiritual healing" programs - and possibly by acceding to mounting demands for a provincial inquiry.

"In many ways, the approach of using residential schools to educate aboriginal children was a significant element in the policy of assimilation that coloured the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians for over a century," Watson told the chiefs.

"We recognize the hurts of the past and our priority now is to build for a better future. The government of Canada today commits to fostering healthy and lasting solutions and to continue our work with aboriginal organizations in resolving these issues."

Watson told reporters later his statement marked "the first time that the federal government has acknowledged that the purpose of residential schools was one of assimilation." He also said that calls for an inquiry were being "actively considered" by cabinet.

Canadian tribal leaders have alleged for years that residential schools were not meant to educate aboriginal kids, but rather to strip them of their language and culture so they would blend into European society - but this has never been acknowledged by the government. The historic federal admission came moments after the release of the report of an Indian sponsored inquiry into residential school abuse among the 600 member Alkali Lake Indian band in BC's Cariboo region.

The report revealed that a sexual abuse victim who testified before the inquiry on May 20, 47 year old Cyril Paul, had put a rifle to his stomach and ended his life two weeks later. Paul, a father of five, had told the inquiry that while attending the residential school in Mission beginning in 1957, he had been beaten, humiliated for wetting his bed, forced to eat rotten food and molested by a Catholic Brother.

"I hurt a lot... I'm scared... I can't trust anybody unless I learn to trust myself and how I feel about me," Paul told the inquiry, adding he hoped one day he would "no longer need to hide my tears in the rain."

Beginning in the late 1800s, the federal government began removing Indian children from their families and placing them in church-run residential schools. There were 14 such schools in BC. The last one closed in the mid 1980's.

Stories of abuse began surfacing in the late 1980's, and have increased in recent years, prompting the RCMP to launch a province wide investigation in 1992 which has already resulted in several convictions of former staff and clergy. The schools are now widely believed to be responsible for much of the social disfunction on Indian reserves, from alcoholism and drug abuse to family violence and suicide.

The news of Paul's death drew tears among some of the roughly 100 chiefs gathered in the gymnasium on the Musqueam reserve in Vancouver. Envoys from the federal and provincial governments and the Catholic church were also there. "The Cyril Paul suicide does reflect the seriousness of this issue, the seriousness of the hurt, the harm, the wrongs that have been inflicted," said Robert Louie of the First Nations Summit.

Louie called for an inquiry into BC's residential schools. "This must be done. There must be follow-up and there must be redress. Certainly the wounds have not healed and they can't heal until there is justice." Father Bob Douglas of the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver said he had worked at Alkali lake early in his career and knew Paul well. "The story is one that's very very familiar, not just at Alkali lake but across Canada."

The inquiry report, prepared by former provincial court judge Cunliffe Barnett, Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit and Joe Couture, is brief but strongly worded. It alleges that "high government and church officials knew that Indian children were being neglected, abused and even killed" at residential schools. The report also calls it "shameful" that the federal government has not yet responded to a recommendation in the recent Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report for a public inquiry into the schools.

But Watson said the new Indian Affairs minister, Jane Stewart,wants to deal with the issue, and there could by an announcement as soon as this fall during the throne speech opening the next session of parliament. BC's Deputy Attorney General, Maureen Maloney, also accepted a copy of the report at the meeting and said it would be considered by the government. Premier Glen Clark has already apologized.

"I didn't know what was happening. They came into the reserve with a big stock truck and they loaded a whole bunch of us young kids in the we were cattle or pigs or whatever."

- Les Peters, 57, on being sent to the Mission
residential school at age 5.

Source: Alkali Residential School Inquiry Report, June 26, 1997

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