Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Apology
The Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) made a number of
recommendations to the Government of Canada regarding residential schools. Canada
consequently made a Statement of Reconciliation to residential school survivors in
1998 and created the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. In 2003, the Government of Canada
launched a Dispute Resolution plan to compensate survivors that fell far short of
the expectations of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. In response, the Assembly of First
Nations, with Grand Chief Phil Fontaine, launched a class action lawsuit in 2005
against the federal government. As a settlement in that case, the Government of Canada
signed the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) in 2006. The event
was heralded as the beginning of a new chapter in Canada’s relationship with its
Indigenous Peoples (First Nations, Inuit, Innu and Métis). It was seen as more than
an acknowledgement of the truth about atrocities committed against Aboriginal children
in the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) system. It was seen as the first step towards
reconciliation between Canada and its Indigenous Peoples.
The IRSSA was implemented on September 19, 2007. Included within the IRSSA was schedule
“N”, the mandate for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, considered to be the cornerstone of the IRSSA, began its work on June
1, 2008. Overall goals of the TRC focus on promoting healing, educating, listening,
and the preparation of a report for all parties that includes recommendations for
the Government of Canada regarding the IRS system, experience and legacy. The TRC
released an interim report in May of 2015.
On June 11, 2008, Canada’s Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, publicly
apologized to Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples for the IRS system, admitting that residential
schools were part of a Canadian policy on forced Aboriginal assimilation. Prime Minister
Harper and the leaders of every major federal political party in Canada publicly
decreed there was no place left in Canada for the policy of forced Aboriginal assimilation.
Nothing has changed since the IRRSA was signed and apologies given: The Inuit in
Nunavut are still without access to food, Aboriginal women are still missing in British
Columbia, Aboriginal suicide rates and life expectancies have not changed, there
is no Aboriginal education system, the gap in wealth between Aboriginal communities
and non-Aboriginal communities has not narrowed, etc.; and, unfortunately, nothing
will change. There is simply no mechanism in place that will result in the change
needed to solve these and other problems facing Canada’s native people; problems
created by the IRS system and the policy of forced assimilation.
Reconciliation is the act of reconciling where, in this instance, to reconcile is
to restore, repair or make good again to achieve a settlement. The TRC’s mandate
is about revealing the IRS system for what it was. It is not about restoration. Aboriginal
people in Canada still need to have their lives restored to achieve settlement. They
need to be given back tools taken from them through which solutions can be built.
These tools are traditional Aboriginal infrastructures, infrastructures that were
destroyed by the IRS system and forced assimilation. Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples
need to have their traditional infrastructures restored and repaired to achieve settlement
and permanently solve problems facing their communities. To accomplish this, Canada
needs a meaningful consultation process; a process to move forward where First Nation,
Inuit and Métis rights are truly equal to the rights of non-Aboriginal colonists.
Background on Indian Residential Schools:
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