Fourth Anniversary of Parliament's Apology for the Indian Residential School System
The historic apology offered to residential school survivors took place in the House of Commons four years ago today, on June 11th 2008. Last Friday, Craig stood in the House to highlight the importance of the ongoing Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as initiatives dedicated to educate Canadians about the challenges communities still face today. Here was the statement by the late Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party, on that historic day:
Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, today, I rise in this House to add the voice of the New Democratic Party to the profound apology being offered humbly to first nations, Métis and Inuit on behalf of the Canadian people.
I wish to acknowledge and honour the elders who are with us here today and are participating in this ceremony, the length and breadth of this land at this very moment.
I wish to pay tribute to the first nations, Métis and Inuit leaders who are here with us and to all of those who are guiding their communities through this difficult, emotional, momentous and hope-filled day.
I wish to recognize the children, here in this chamber today and watching at home in gatherings across the land, who also bear witness to the legacy of the residential schools.
Most importantly, I want to say to the survivors of the residential schools, some of whom have joined us here today, we are sorry for what has taken place.
Today we mark a very significant moment for Canada. It is the moment when we, as a Parliament, as a country, take responsibility for one of the most shameful periods in our history. It is the moment for us to finally apologize. It is the moment when we will start to build a shared future, a future based on equality and built on mutual respect and truth.
It was this Parliament that enacted, 151 years ago, the racist legislation that established the residential schools. This Parliament chose to treat first nations, Métis and Inuit people as not equally human. It set out to kill the Indian in the child. That choice was horribly wrong. It led to incredible suffering. It denied first nations, Métis and Inuit the basic freedom to choose how to live their lives. For those wrongs that we have committed, we are truly sorry.
Our choice denied their children the love and nurturing of their own families and communities.
It denied children the pride and self-esteem that come from learning one's heritage, language, culture and traditions. In addition to these wounds, they experienced our neglect, inadequate health care, mistreatment and sexual abuse, all of which harmed so many children and even killed some.
Because of Canada's policies, those who survived learned to be ashamed of who they are.
For these terrible actions, we are sorry.
The legacy of residential schools casts a shadow over our country. It tore apart families and communities for generations, and this continues to be felt, and felt very personally.
Nearly every first nations person of my age that I have met is a survivor. Many are also the children of survivors.
One of those children told me about her mother, a Cree from northern Quebec, who had 12 of her 14 children taken from her. Her brother died in a residential school, but their mother was never told why or how. She was never told where her son was buried. She did not have the right to pay tribute to his life or his death. She could not mourn or say her final goodbyes to her child, as every mother should.
Many years later, her daughter was working in northern Ontario and she happened to mention the story of her brother to a local. He said, “I know where your brother is buried”. They went to the graveyard and he pointed to a spot beside a headstone, and said, “Your brother is buried here, unmarked”.
The pain inflicted by the residential schools is deeply felt by these children, who were forced to attend, and by the parents who had their children stolen from them. It is still felt in first nations, Métis and Inuit communities across the country.
The destruction of family and community ties, the psychological wounds, the loss of language and culture, and substandard education all led to widespread poverty, which remains rampant in first nations, Métis and Inuit communities today.
The horrors of the residential schools continue to harm even those who never experienced them personally.
There can be no equivocation. The laws consciously enacted in this House put the residential schools into place and kept them going for many years.
It is in this House that we must start the process of reconciliation. That is why we are here together today and why we are here together to say we are sorry. This is a crucial first step.
However, reconciliation must be built through positive steps that show respect and restore trust. This apology must not be an end; it must be a beginning.
What is needed is a commitment to never again allow such a travesty of justice and transgression against equality to occur.
It begins with officially recognizing the rights and cultures of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples by signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
But reconciliation also means that, as a Parliament and as a country, we must take action to address the terrible inequality faced by first nations, Métis and Inuit communities. We can start by restoring the nation-to-nation relationship between the Government of Canada and first nations, Métis and the Inuit.
Even as we speak here today, thousands of aboriginal children are without proper schools or clean water, adequate food, their own bed, good health care, safety, comfort, land and rights.
We can no longer throw up our hands and say, “There's nothing we can do”. Taking responsibility and working toward reconciliation means saying, “We must act together to resolve this”.
Let us reverse the horrific and shameful statistics afflicting aboriginal populations, now: the high rates of poverty, suicide, the poor or having no education, overcrowding, crumbling housing, and unsafe drinking water. Let us make sure that all survivors of the residential schools receive the recognition and compensation that is due to them.
We must make a serious, collective commitment. All of us together—first nations, Métis and Inuit, Canadians who have been here for generations and new Canadians as well—must build a future based on fairness, equality and respect.
Meegwetch. Ekosi. Nakurmiik.