Canadian Leader to Apologize to Aboriginals

AP, June 10, 2008

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will deliver a public apology Wednesday to Canadian Indians who decades ago were taken from their families and forced to attend state-funded Christian schools aimed at stripping them of their aboriginal culture.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 aboriginal children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools in a painful attempt to rid them of their native cultures and languages and integrate them into Canadian society.

Australia made a similar apology in February. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology in Parliament to the so-called Stolen Generations—thousands of Aborigines who forcibly were taken from their families as children under assimilation policies that lasted from 1910 to 1970.

Harper will announce Canada’s formal apology in Parliament, before at least 250 former students. Television screens are being set up at locations across Canada so that it can be watched live.

Native leaders say it is a pivotal moment for Canada’s more than 1 million aboriginals. More than 80,000 of the former students are still alive today.

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That legacy of abuse and isolation has been cited by Indian leaders as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations. Canada’s aboriginals remain the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged group.

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He said he expected the apology to include his requested acknowledgments of the injustices done to Canadian aboriginals, who did not have the right to vote until 1960.

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If the apology is sincere and complete, it will go long way in repairing the relationship between aboriginals and the rest of Canada, he said.

“This is not just about survivors; this is about Canada coming to terms with its past and maturing as a nation,” he said.

The apology coincides with a truth and reconciliation commission that will examine the government policy.

Aboriginal Judge Harry LaForme will oversee the commission and eventually will travel across the country to hear stories from former students, teachers and others. The commission has not decided yet when it will begin hearing testimony.

The commission was created as part of a $5 billion class-action settlement in 2006—the largest in Canadian history—between the government, churches and the surviving students.

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