Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 23, 2008
An historic day
Gov't apologizes for residential schools travesty; Alta. Archbishop calls for a new relationship
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"What happened today signifies a new dawn in the relationship between us and the rest of Canada."
- Phil Fontaine.
Harper apologized for how the policy not only separated children from their families, but also from their cultures and traditions, leaving a void in their lives and communities. He apologized for how the schools robbed students of parenting skills, sowing the seeds for problems in subsequent generations.
"Not only did you suffer these abuses as children, but as you became parents, you were powerless to protect your own children from suffering the same experience, and for this we are sorry," he said.
The three opposition party leaders followed Harper with detailed apologies, laced with specific examples of abuse and deprivation at the schools run primarily by Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches, and Roman Catholic dioceses and religious orders.
"Successive Canadian governments and various churches were complicit in the mental, physical and sexual abuse of thousands of aboriginal children through the residential schools system," said Opposition Leader Stephen Dion.
"As the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, a party that was in government for more than 70 years in the 20th century, I acknowledge our role and our shared responsibility in this tragedy. I am deeply sorry. I apologize."
In a last-minute decision, members of Parliament unanimously agreed to allow the Aboriginal leaders to respond from the floor of the House.
Wearing a ceremonial headdress, Fontaine, who had entered the chamber in a procession alongside the prime minister, seemed to choke back tears.
"Never again will this House consider us the Indian problem just for being who we are," he said, acknowledging the government had taken "full responsibility for this dreadful chapter of our shared history."
"This is saying we want a new relationship with our First Nations people."
- Archbishop Gerard Pettipas
"Brave survivors, through the telling of their painful stories, have stripped white supremacy of its authority and legitimacy. The irresistibility of speaking truth to power is real.
"I reach out to all Canadians today in this spirit of reconciliation," he said.
"This is saying we want a new relationship with our First Nations people," said Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, who represented the 50 Catholic entities - dioceses and religious orders - involved in the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
That agreement is a $2.2-billion package that has dispensed "common experience payments" averaging $25,000 to every student. The churches agreed to $120 million. The Catholic entities are expected to contribute $80 million of that amount, both in cash and in counselling, rehabilitation and reconciliation services.
"Healing doesn't happen overnight," Pettipas said, noting that people can take years to overcome hurt in their lives. But when someone who has been part of that pain says "I'm sorry," that has a powerful impact.
Pettipas, who became archbishop of the northwestern Alberta diocese in 2007, admitted he had little familiarity with First Nations people or the legacy of the residential schools until after his appointment. The process has been an education for him, he said.
Though education has been part of the mission of the church, he said he doubted whether the Church on its own would have run schools that forcibly removed children from their families.
"We have bought into a certain colonization, but I think there was a legitimate recognition of the government that it was their policy. Unfortunately we colluded with them."
For some residential school survivors, the moment was bittersweet.
"The state has apologized," said Katherine Sorbey of Mi'kmaq First Nation in Restigouche, Quebec. "The Canadian government has apologized.
"The pope hasn't has he?" she asked.
A baptized Catholic, Sorbey said she stopped going to church in the 1990s when she became overwhelmed with her recollections of her residential schools experience.
"Now I'm going to go back to church which I neglected since the 1990s."
The last stage of the settlement agreement, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), is preparing to hold cross-country hearings and present its findings in 2013.
Survivors will be able to share their stories. Catholic leaders also plan to take part, and it is hoped that some of the positive stories of the schools will also be told. The TRC will also, they hope, hear from the religious sisters and brothers and priests who gave their lives in the service of native peoples.
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