Canadian Press/Tom Hanson
Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine (right, wearing headdress) watches as
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologizes for more than a century of
abuse and cultural loss involving Indian residential schools. (AP)

Canadian Prime Minister Apologizes to Aboriginals

June 11, 2008 05:44 PM
by Cara McDonough
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology on behalf of the Government of Canada to those who suffered abuse in First Nation residential schools.

30-Second Summary

About 150,000 native children attended the mandatory schools, which were an extension of Christian missionary work designed to assimilate First Nation children into Christian society.

The schools operated for about a century, with most of them shutting down in the 1970s. Former students have since made allegations that they were physically and sexually abused while attending the schools.

The government has acknowledged the abuse, but never issued an apology until now. Harper made his apology in Ottawa to hundreds of former schoolchildren.

“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” Harper said.

School survivor Willie Blackwater, who is known for speaking out about the rape and beatings he suffered as a child in the residential schools, said that the apology “makes a huge difference,” but that the devastating effect attending the school had on his family remains a tangible memory.

“I can talk about the sexual abuse and physical abuse and describe every detail about what happened, but that’s old news to me. … The most pain is with my family and the loss of our culture and our tradition,” he said.

Australia took a similar step in February when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official government apology to the country’s Aborigines for half a century of oppressive laws and policies.

Headline Links: Harper apologizes

Reactions: A former student speaks out

Background: Canada’s residential schools

Related Topics: Other official apologies for past transgressions

Reference: The Assembly of First Nations


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