Thursday, June 12, 2008

Canada Apologizes For Residential Schools

In the 19th century Canada, and the US and Australia, decided to put an end to aboriginal culture by taking the children of Native families away from them and raising them in a series of boarding schools called residential schools. These schools were run by the Catholic, United, and Anglican churches and were severely underfunded. Most met their financial needs by forcing the children to work. Teachers were untrained and few resources existed in order to carry out the mandate to actually teach the children. A report from the early years of the program, 1894-1908, showed a mortality rate among students of 35-60 percent. Parents did not send their kids to these schools. Children were rounded up by government officials, sometimes without the parents' knowledge. When one family in the area that was to become Stanley Park in Vancouver, protested the government's efforts to destroy their village, its children were packed up and sent to a residential school. Towards the end of the program, attitudes towards Native culture were changing, the government began to fund the schools properly in the 50s and took direct control in the 60s. By the time the program was finally ended, in 1998, there were students who could look back positively on their experience, but it would be grossly inaccurate to pretend that these students could balance off a history that was rampant with physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. Last fall the federal government came up with a compensation package for students, and it has put together a truth and reconciliation commision, whose work will begin this month. Yesterday Prime Minister Harper formally apologized, on behalf of the nation, to the former students of these schools. About time.

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