Canadian Prime Minister StephenHarper delivered a long-anticipated apology yesterday to tens of thousands ofindigenous people who as children were ripped from their families and sent toboarding schools, where many were abused as part of official government policyto "kill the Indian in the child."
Harper rose on the floor of a packedHouse of Commons and condemned the decades-long federal effort to wipe outaboriginal culture and assimilate native Canadians into European-dominatedsociety. "The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks theforgiveness of the aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them soprofoundly," Harper declared. "We are sorry."
Investigations have established thatthousands of Indian, Inuit and Metis children suffered mental, physical andsexual abuse in 132 boarding schools, most of them run by churches. The firstopened in the late 1800s; the last -- in Saskatchewan -- continued operatinguntil 1996.
"The treatment of children inIndian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history," said Harper,facing indigenous leaders who sat in a circle in the House chamber, some intraditional feathered dress. They variously listened silently or wept for whattheir people suffered and are still suffering.
The apology received a generallypositive reaction from indigenous leaders. Mary Simon, an Inuit leader, toldthe House: "Let us not be lulled into believing that when the
sun rises tomorrow, the pain andscars will be gone. They won't. But a new day has dawned."
The children's stories have emergedbit by bit in recent decades, causing a national self-examination in a countrywhose citizens commonly view it with pride as a bastion of human rights.
In 2006, the government reached a $2billion settlement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history.Officials promised to pay 80,000 former residential school students $10,000each for the first year they attended the schools, and $3,000 for each subsequentyear. The settlement included additional compensation for sexual and physicalabuse and established a truth and reconciliation commission, the first of itskind in an industrialized country.
Many countries around the world haveattempted to close painful chapters of history with such commissions and withapologies. South Africahas examined crimes of the apartheid era, Peru and Sierra Leone the events ofinsurgencies. Australia in February apologized to its aboriginal people. In theUnited States, a bill to apologize to American Indians is in the works.
"The government of Canada builtan educational system in which very young children were often forcibly removedfrom their homes, often taken far from their communities," Harper saidyesterday.