Canada apologies for 'failing' Native people

MP3: Audio of Apology
The Canadian government officially apologized on Wednesday for its treatment of Native at residential schools.

In a historic speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the goal of the schools was to assimilate Native children. Students were barred from speaking their language and practicing their culture.

"Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, 'to kill the Indian in the child,' Harper said in the speech before the House of Commons in the Parliament.

Beyond being forcibly separated from their communities, Harper acknowledged that Native people suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the schools. He said their mistreatment contributed directly to high rates of unemployment, poverty, suicide and other social problems that persist today.

"The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly," Harper said.

The apology is one component of a landmark settlement between the government and former students who sued over their treatment at the schools. Every student won a share of a $1.9 billion payout, the majority of which has been distributed.

In addition to the payout and the apology, the settlement establishes the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Harper said the commission will promote public awareness and education about the school system, which began in the 1870s and continued for 100 years.

The schools were funded by the government and managed by a number of Christian churches. The Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United churches previously apologized for their role in the tragedy.

Some churches lost a number of lawsuits and were ordered to pay damages to former students. An October 2005 court ruling in one case held the churches and the government liable for the abuses and the settlement package was announced a month later.

"We heard the government of Canada take full responsibility for this dreadful chapter in our shared history," said Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine, "We heard the prime minister declare that this will never happen again. Finally, we heard Canada say it is sorry."

Fontaine and AFN were instrumental in securing the settlement, which stands in contrast to the situation in the United States. For a century, American Indian and Alaska Native students were forced to attend boarding schools under federal policies of assimilation.

The Senate and the House have considered non-binding resolutions to apologize to Native people in the U.S. for their treatment in boarding schools and for other negative policies. However, the legislation specifically states that no money is attached to the apology.

Even so, the Bush administration actively delayed consideration of the resolution as it was moving towards quick passage in the summer of 2004. The apology has since been included in the Senate's version of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which also has faced opposition from the White House.

A group of Sioux tribal members who attended Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools filed a $25 billion claim against the U.S. government. A federal judge dismissed the case in November 2004, citing provisions in a treaty that required claims to be heard by the BIA before going to the courts.

U.S. Apology Resolution:
S.J.Res.4 | H.J.Res.3

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