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Apology Accepted?

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Issue: 52 Section: Media Analysis Geography: Canada Topics: Indigenous, Canada

July 7, 2008

Apology Accepted?

Survivors, Indigenous observers respond to apology

St. Michael's Indian Residential School, Albert Bay, BC. Photo: Dan Feeney

The following are excerpts from responses to Stephen Harper’s apology on behalf of the Canadian government to Indigenous peoples for the residential school system.

Remnants of the Convent of Holy Angels Indian Residential School, Fort Chipewyan, AB. Photo: Mark Elliott

"If there is one thing that Mr. Harper's 'apology' provided that could be considered groundbreaking or new, it's the idea that there can be crimes without criminals."

-- Mike Krebs, Indigenous activist and writer, of mixed Blackfoot and Italian descent

"The fifth act [in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – which Canada refuses to ratify] is unquestionably the most directly relevant to 'truth and reconciliation' with regard to Canada’s Indian Residential Schools: 'forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.' The residential schools are often called a 'tragedy,' but they weren’t a tragedy, they were a policy. They were conceived and run with genocidal intent, and from what I’ve seen on Main Street in Winnipeg and the lower east side of Vancouver and on the reserves, they are continuing to have a genocidal impact on Native societies."

-- Ward Churchill, veteran activist of Cherokee descent

"We're probably not feeling the same as the other people. The apology is not intended for us. I spent 10 years of my life [at North West River school] and it was a horrible ordeal. I went through all kinds of physical abuse. I was thrown down stairs. There was kerosene poured over my head to kill lice that I never had."

-- Nora Ford, survivor of North West River (not designated a residential school)

"It's way up in Parliament and we're over here. How can I forgive him when it's up there and we're over here?"

-- Benjamin Lafford, Shubenacadie survivor

"I am one of these people who have prayed for this day and there have been times in this long journey when I despaired that this would never happen, but after listening to the PM and the leaders of the political parties I am filled with hope and compassion for my fellow Aboriginal Canadians as I stand among them here.

-- Mary Simon, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President

"I put in eight years in that dump. My life was destroyed by going to that school so I don't think they could do anything that could help."

-- Gloria Maloney, Shubenacadie survivor

"I keep seeing my mother being a four-year-old girl being taken away and being alone, and that brings me to tears. She's not crying; she knows how to keep her emotions in. But we are, we're crying for her."

-- her daughter Cheryl

"To me, the Prime Minister's speech was dead. I know it didn't come from the heart, it came from his head. He was reading and reading and there was nothing..."

-- Rita Blind, security worker at a women's centre in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, former residential school student

"Few people realize the broader effects that the residential school experience has had on our communities beyond the overwhelming destruction of our families and individual lives. … I believe that the main reasons our youth do not do well academically or socially in mainstream schools is because of the lack of respect in our communities for education due to the learned fear of educational institutions, the social issues we face that stem from Canadian assimilation policies, and the racism that persists throughout this country as non-Aboriginal people judge us for those social issues we are forced to overcome due to all of the external forces that led to them."

-- Lynda Gray, Executive Director, Urban Native Youth Association

"Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister wrote: 'Tell our friends in Europe that the Indian and the Métis will be held down with a firm hand until the country is overrun, owned and operated by White settlers.' MacDonald followed up by naming people in the military as directors-general of 'Indian Affairs.' The interests of European business, with the support of governments, had launched numerous initiatives to eliminate Indigenous People from North America. The French Academy of Sciences even hosted a conference in the 1800s which tried – unsuccessfully – to find out if we were human. That did not stop many attempts to destroy our societies….

"When Canada dismantles Indian Affairs and the Treasury Board vote[s] for funds to meet Treaty obligations [which] are transferred directly to First Nations, then recovery can begin.

"When Canada recognizes that it is a state with delegated authority and not sovereign over Indigenous communities, then healing will begin.

"When Canada shares the wealth of Indigenous lands equitably with Indigenous communities, then the healing will begin.

"When Canada recognizes its addiction to power and accepts the reality that Indigenous peoples agreed to share and live in peace and not to give their lands, resources and very lives so that the Queen’s 'children' could have it all for themselves, then the healing will begin for Canada and for us.

-- Interim Grand Chief Gerald Antoine of the Dehcho First Nations

"Our communities are suffering major problems, which have a direct link with the scandal of residential schools. Yet, the government is not providing the resources required to counter the crisis situation. It still refuses to grant our communities the sums comparable to those of the rest of the population. While Canada ranks 4th on the Human Development Index, our First Nations are at the 68th rank.

"Is the prime minister also apologizing for this situation?"

-- Alain Garon, Information and Communication Officer, AFNQL

"...[W]hile we commend the Canadian Government on the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission we cannot ignore the Auditor General's recent report substantiating that budgets for child welfare agencies in Canada continue to focus the majority of their efforts on the placement of Aboriginal children outside their communities and Nations. This type of practice is reminiscent of the Residential School policy.

"In order for this apology to be considered genuine, more efforts must be undertaken to correct current oppressive measures under the Indian Act that prevent Indigenous peoples from prospering socially, culturally, politically and economically.

"We therefore urge the Government of Canada to adequately fund Indigenous languages in a manner that is equivalent to the support given to the French and English languages; to adequately consult Aboriginal peoples in good faith on legislation that addresses issues such as matrimonial real property, Bill C-21, Bill C-47; Bill C-30 and to eliminate the sexual discrimination that exists under Section 6 of the Indian Act."

-- Quebec Native Women's Association

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Harper apology

I didn't want to see a Prime Minister up there apologizing and showing his weakness in being emotional.

As if he would be or may be guilty of something and an apology is the quickest shortest most painless route.

But the pain has been inflicted on the aboriginal people.
Its very personal and very real.

But it is not something personal Mr Harper, at least not to you. You did not, after all, inflict the abuse, did you?

If there were something wholehearted and meaningful in the time you have been in Office, perhaps a larger impact and lasting legacy would have been achieved with more than mere words.

My Mother, Aunts and Uncles were all hurt, mistreated and badly abused at these schools. It was an embarrassing moment for me to see our Prime Minister profusely apologizing on her behalf, and have the government take responsibility for what he un-deftly referred to as poor parenting skills.

He's up there apologizing on behalf of kidnappers and tormentors and people who offend the worst sensibilities in people concerning child care and education and forces them to face their most darkest prejudices and fears in regards to this country's first citizens and in effect, he is insulting my Mother, saying she did not have skills to raise children he is effectively admitting Canada's complicity that hints at something larger than a grand design and plan to just educate Canada's natives.

I spent a good deal of time emotional energy and effort to bend the ear of the Government in the past to bring about a concrete change for intergenerational trauma sufferers, people who have one or more parents or relatives who attended these schools. If this is some type of return on my investment, it is very small and short lived unless a requisite positively felt change takes place in society.

And since people in society are generally skeptical, mistrustful and cynical of government, I highly doubt good citizens are inclined to pick up the slack for a government that all but paved a path to hell with their good intentions.

But back to the apology; this is what people were afraid of: offending people due to lack of sensitivity and knowledge. It was like someone brought him to up to speed at the last minute.

Don't worry Mr Harper it is not your fault. We hope you are prepared to stand by for the Truth.

Reconciliation to follow.

response to official apology

Searching for meaning in an apology for a crime without criminals, a crime that manages to touch on all five of the UN's descriptors for genocide, that ran for over a hundred years, and continues on today in various permutations....leaves me wondering who official Canada is talking to? Itself, I guess...as usual. Kind of a rambling mumbling loser-type sleep-walking into an oblivion of its own creation, unaware that there's an entire universe out there beyond the fringes of 'western civilization'.

There are no possible solutions within the social construct 'western civilization'. Our (collective humanity) only hope is to abandon that paradigm and get creative (instead of destructive). The colonial madness has swept the planet, and we've got nowhere to hide....it's time to face it, name it, deal with it.

We the living are challenged with nothing less than a complete re-design of what we call society; human-made systems for human beings to live in harmony with our great mother. At least we know from our own (indigenous) history that such system designs are possible. To hell with saying sorry...let's get busy and fix it!

a tree without roots

I grew up away from any extended family. I did hear bits about an Irish ancestry. My mother has been gone now for over ten years but I am still looking for a connection of some kind, to a past, a history.

I have always felt disconnected, apart. I recall as a very small child sitting and listening to the insane rantings of a woman torrmented. My mother reliving the horrors inflicted upon her by the nuns at the convent that she was brought up in. "The nuns were mean." I remember crying and crying. I don't know if it was because of the inexplicable guilt that I was feeling or because of the preaching that was being berated at me, as I sat with my brothers and sister, listening. Mom was just sharing the only thing she knew about growing up being preached at and made to feel guilty, for no reason.

I felt like a tumble weed, but now I might be a tree and find my roots that have always been there but were unspoken about. My family is of first nation ancestry. I have branches that reach back in time hundreds of years.

I have just read that the convent that my mother was in is on the list of indian residential schools. She never got to hear the apology. How can that take away the years of alcohol, sadness, invisible cuts that run so deep they never stopped bleeding?

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