Canada is "Sorry"?
... For Genocide?
Residential school apology in context
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.
"I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill." —Duncan Campbell Scott, head of the Department of Indian Affairs and founder of the residential school system, 1920
On June 11, 2008, Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Conservative Party, issued an "apology" for the residential school system that over 150,000 Indigenous children were forced through. The hype before and after the statement was enormous, with extensive coverage in all major media.
This event had a strong emotional and psychological impact on Indigenous survivors of residential schools all across Canada, who suffered attempted forced assimilation as well as countless acts of violence, rape, and other abuses. Descendents of those subjected to this system were equally affected. People packed into community halls and similar venues on June 11 for what was bound to be an emotional day for survivors, regardless of their view on the meaning of the "apology." Some survivors reportedly felt that the statement was a step forward, while many others were highly critical.
In trying to understand the responses of Indigenous people across Canada to this "apology," it is first important to address what it did not do. It must be judged in terms of the ability of Indigenous people to move forward in the process of true healing, not only from the effects of the residential school system, but also from Canadian colonialism as a whole. Examined in context, the deficiencies of the "apology" are much greater than any positive impact it might have.
A crime of genocide
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. We need to start believing each other By Maurice Switzer BayToday.ca Thursday, July 17, 2008I’m not sure if my grandfather Moses Marsden would qualify as one of the beneficiaries of the Prime Minister’s June 11 apology. Our family never knew much about the southern Ontario “training” school he attended in the 1870’s, other than he ran away from it before he completed Grade 3. It was one of those things that Indian families didn’t dwell on. If Grandpa had told his family about the kind of experiences I’ve heard residential school survivors talk about, I don’t know if they would have believed him. It’s almost beyond comprehension that elected Parliamentarians and church leaders in a civilized society would institutionalize child abuse. ... We try to assure participants that they are not responsible, nor should they feel guilty about historic injustices. “But, if it happens again,” we caution, “it will be your fault.” And surely that’s the purpose of the national apology process – to admit that there has been a problem so we can avoid it recurring. Having a better understanding of the past should help all of us in Canada build a better future. As a Supreme Court judge wisely observed in ruling on a historic land claim – we’re all here to stay. Maurice Switzer is a citizen of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.
"I don't want to hear it. You know, you might as well send the janitor up to apologize…if it's just empty words or a nicely written text." — Michael Cachagee, survivor of Shingwauk Indian Residential School