In an unprecedented gesture of reconciliation to Canada’s native peoples, the government apologized Wednesday for past acts of oppression, including decades of abuse at federally funded boarding schools.
The apology - sought for years by native leaders - was part of a sweeping federal initiative to improve strained relations with Indian and Inuit communities. More explicitly than ever before, the government expressed regret at past treatment of aboriginals and pledged to support native self-government.
The statement of reconciliation was read by Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart, then presented in the form of scrolls to five senior native leaders at a ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
“Sadly, our history with respect to the treatment of aboriginal people is not something in which we can take pride,” Stewart said. “We must ensure that the mistakes which marked our past relationship are not repeated.”
These include a network of boarding schools established across Canada with the goal of severing native youths from their own culture and assimilating them in white society. More than 80 of the church-run, government-funded schools operated for nearly a century, beginning in the 1880s.
Hundreds of former pupils have told investigators of rapes, beatings, suicides, suspicious deaths and humiliating punishments at the schools.