Canada: Harper apologizes to Aboriginals.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jun 12 15:13:26 UTC 2008


Over 400 aboriginal people from around the province gathered at the
River Cree Resort in Enoch today to watch Prime Minister Stephen
Harper's formal apology to residential school survivors.  Marie
Durosher was a student at one of the schools for nearly seven years.
She said the apology seemed insincere. "I think Stephen Harper had no
sincerity in his voice. We might as well have had a robot," she said.
Nathaniel Arcand's mother, aunt and grandmother were all students at
residential schools. He thought the move by the federal government was

"It's good to see things are changing and the government is
recognizing these misdeeds," he said. "I think (Harper) was very
sincere. Both him and the opposition leader." Speaking in an
emotionally charged House of Commons, Harper expressed regret and
remorse for a horrific legacy that began in the 1870s and continued
for many generations. The government's assimilation policy ripped
roughly 150,000 children from their homes and communities and placed
them in far-away boarding schools.

"The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian
residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this
policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture,
heritage and language," Harper told the survivors, Parliamentarians
and dignitaries assembled in the Commons.  Assembly of First Nations
chief Phil Fontaine brought many to tears when he called the apology
"the achievement of the impossible."

"Finally we have heard Canada say it is sorry," he said. Fontaine said
the apology officially strips away a policy of "white supremacy," and
that the assimilation process impoverished not just the aboriginal
population, but the character of our country as a whole.  "We are, and
always have been, an indispensible part of the Canadian identity," he
said. While some former students have spoken positively about their
experiences, those stories are overshadowed by tragic ones, Harper
said. Deprived of the care of their parents and native culture and
language, many of the "helpless children" in residential schools
endured sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

Some never made it back to their families. "Tragically, some of these
children died while attending residential schools and others never
returned home," he said. Survivors and native leaders, many in
ceremonial dress, cheered, beat drums and unleashed tears of heavy
emotion from the floor and galleries of the Commons.  Marguerite
Wabano, the eldest survivor at age 104, received a rousing standing
ovation as she entered the room with a cane.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion expressed hope the day marked a period of
healing and a new beginning. Acknowledging that his party was in power
for 70 years in the last century, he shared responsibility on behalf
of the Liberals.  "I am deeply sorry. I apologize, he said. "I am
sorry that Canada wilfully attempted to eradicate your identity and
culture by taking you away from your families when you were children
and by building a system to punish you for who you were."

NDP Leader Jack Layton called the apology a very important moment for
Canada, for assuming responsibility for one of the most shameful eras
of the country's history. But he said concrete steps to improve the
lives of aboriginals must follow this "crucial first step." "Even as
we speak here today, thousands of Aboriginal children are without
schools, clean water, adequate food, their own bed, good health care,
safety, comfort, land and rights," he said. "We can no longer throw up
our hands and say "there is nothing we can do."

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