As Indigenous Peoples in Canada marked the sixth anniversary of the historic apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the country’s residential schools program, aboriginal leaders said the expression of regret has yet to appear fully sincere.
On June 11, 2008, before the House of Commons, Harper formally apologized to former students of residential schools and their families. On June 11, 2014, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) urged Harper’s government to “fulfill the spirit of the apology” by upholding and respecting the treaties, First Nations jurisdiction, and land title and rights.
“These same attitudes and approaches that created the residential schools and sustained them for over 100 years continue to hold back First Nations and all of Canada from achieving real change,” said AFN spokesperson and Quebec/Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, who has been filling that role since National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo resigned on May 2. “Now more than ever we must see the Government of Canada bring life to the words of the apology and work with First Nations in the spirit of true reconciliation to address the many challenges before us.”
All too little progress has been made, said AFN Regional Chief Bill Erasmus, who oversees the AFN’s advocacy work regarding residential schools. The residential schools era lasted from the 1870s through 1996, when the last institution closed.
“These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children,” as the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission describes it.
Many of the 150,000 students who were taken from their families during this time were abused, and thousands died. Indigenous Peoples in Canada sued the government and won, leading to a settlement that included the apology, recompense and other measures.
“We honor all former students of residential schools and their families, and continue to advocate to ensure they have the support they require for individual and collective healing,” Erasmus said in the AFN statement. “As set out in the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, the apology was ordered by the court and we continue to press the Government of Canada to uphold its full responsibility as set out in the agreement, including full disclosure of documents so that the proper truth-telling can take place. We strongly encourage First Nations and all Canadians to come together to educate each other about the significance of the Settlement Agreement and all its facets.”
This mini-documentary spells out what happened under the residential schools program, and discusses reconciliation.