Sat, May 17, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Harper to apologize for abuses at native schools

AP , TORONTO

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to make a long-awaited apology in parliament to indigenous Canadians who were physically and sexually abused for decades in state-funded Christian schools.

Harper will on June 11 make the apology that First Nations, a collection of Aboriginal groups, have been seeking for many years, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said on Thursday.

“The apology is a crucial step in the journey towards healing and reconciliation,” Strahl said in a statement.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were required to attend church-run schools in a painful attempt to rid them of their native cultures and languages and integrate them into Canadian society.

isolation

The federal government admitted 10 years ago that physical and sexual abuse in the once-mandatory schools was rampant. 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 indigenous Canadian reserves.

Many of the surviving former students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages and losing touch with their parents and native customs.

They have stressed the importance of hearing the prime minister say he’s sorry in parliament.

The apology will coincide with a commission examining abuse in native residential schools that will begin its work on June 1.

In 2005, the federal government earmarked US$1.7 billion in payments for Aboriginal victims of sexual and psychological abuse during the forced Christian schooling.

sad legacy

“With the Settlement Agreement and the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I am hopeful that the apology will help turn the page from the sad legacy of Indian Residential Schools,” Strahl said.

Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, did not respond to calls seeking comment. He helped broker the compensation deal and hoped to help draft the apology. Fontaine raised the prospect in recent weeks that First Nations might reject the apology if it was used as a political ploy to mute a national day of protest by indigenous people on May 29.

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

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