A new report pertaining to the residential school system in Canada refers to it as “cultural genocide” of aboriginal people.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released the report after six years of study into the institutions which Canadian aboriginals were required to attend under a former government policy, despite issues of physical and sexual abuse occurring. First Nation leaders believe this to be the cause of substance abuse occurring at such a high rate on reservations, writes Charmaine Noronha for The Washington Post.
Between the 19th century and the 1970s, over 150,000 aboriginal children attended Christian schools, as a requirement to replace their native cultures and languages with that of the mainstream Canadian society.
In all, over 130 such schools were in operation across the country.
The exercise has been “a difficult, inspiring and very painful journey for all of us,” said Justice Murray Sinclair, Canada’s first aboriginal justice and the commission’s chairman. “The residential school experience is clearly one of the darkest most troubling chapters in our collective history,” Sinclair told a packed news conference Tuesday in Ottawa.
The one question still left unanswered is how many children died while attending these schools. The chief medical officer at the Indian Affairs department flagged a large number of student deaths in the 1920s, and was fired for doing so. According to an earlier draft of the report, the number could have been around 4,000.
“The government stopped recording deaths of children in residential schools, we think, probably because the rates were so high,” Sinclair said, adding that up to 6,000 children may have died. “We think this is a situation that needs further study.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology for the abuse that occurred in these institutions in 2008 after the federal government admitted wrongs had occurred throughout the history of these schools. Students said they had been beaten if they spoke their native language.
The goal of the report was to offer survivors of these schools a chance to share their personal stories, while also educating Canadian citizens on the history of the schools and group of people affected by them.
Among the recommendations listed in the report, the commission is asking the federal government to begin a national inquiry into aboriginal women who were murdered or are missing.
In addition, it would like the Pope to publicly apologize on the part of the Roman Catholic Church. It would also like the government to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the “framework for reconciliation.”
Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde said that the apology would carry little meaning if no changes were to come about from it. However, while Harper did apologize, he later said that he did not call the time period a cultural genocide, nor did he promise to carry out any of the recommendations made by the commission.
The commission was created as a part of a $5 billion class action settlement from 2006 between the government, churches and the 90,000 surviving First Nation students.