As the Trudeau government commemorated the 10th anniversary of Canada’s apology to residential school survivors Monday, one survivor criticized Canada’s reconciliation efforts.
Evelyn Korkmaz, a Cree survivor who attended St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany, Ont., spoke ahead of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett at a news conference on Parliament Hill.
“Canada has a moral [obligation] to improve the lives of their First Peoples,” said Korkmaz. “There’s no excuse whatsoever for our reserves to have undrinkable water, mold-infested housing, poor health care, high suicide rates, and addiction.
“This is a shame and a disgrace to Canada.”
In a written statement ahead of the commemoration event, Bennett called the Harper government’s June 11, 2008 apology a “historic milestone in our journey toward reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.”
But Bennett said more needs to be done.
“True and lasting reconciliation cannot be achieved through any one single agreement, and that the settlement agreement is not a complete answer to the wrongs of the past of the challenges of the present.”
The 2008 settlement included an official government apology, and to date Canada has financially compensated almost 38,000 survivors a total of $3.1 billion.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children and youth attended the schools, which operated from 1879 to 1996 and involved the separation of students from their families, the prohibition of their culture and language, the indoctrination of Christianity, the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of many students — all in an attempt to assimilate Indigenous people into society.
Since the 2008 apology, various demographics of survivors have spoken out about being excluded from the settlement and reconciliation efforts, including Metis, those who attended day schools, and survivors from Newfoundland and Labrador.
In 2017 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Labrador to apologize to survivors from that province.
But not all survivors were included in that settlement.
Leah Ford, an 81-year-old Inuk elder and survivor, told APTN she attended a Moravian Church-run school in Makkovik, where she was abused by teachers and other students, but was told she could not be part of the settlement because she attended prior to 1949, the year Newfoundland and Labrador joined confederation.
Bennett said the government is working with demographics that were excluded from the settlement.
“We are working hard to address the harms done to those who attended day schools as well as schools on reserve,” she said. “They too had their language taken away or were not allowed to practice their culture.”
Bennett specifically named Metis survivors as one group the government is working with, and said she is “interested in sitting down and talking” to survivors from Newfoundland and Labrador who were left out of the 2017 apology.
Korkmaz said the time has come to stop talking about what Canada is going to do and to take action.
“We’ve had enough talk. It has been 10 years since the apology. We must ask ourselves: have we implemented the Truth and Reconciliation [calls to action]?” she said.
Bennett praised the government’s work in implementing some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action but said full implementation will take time.
“We will continue to work with survivors and their representatives to bring closure to this sorrowful chapter in our history, as we rebuild our relationship with Indigenous Peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation, partnership and trust,” she said.
Bennett also acknowledged the necessity of ensuring the residential schools’ legacy of intergenerational trauma and the trauma’s impacts on Indigenous people and communities today are understood.
Last week an Angus Reid poll indicated a majority of Canadians feel Indigenous Peoples should have “no special status that other Canadians don’t have,” and that the same number of those surveyed — 53 percent — feel Canada “spends too much time apologizing for residential schools.”
“We need to do a better job at explaining what intergenerational trauma really is,” Bennett said Monday. “It means that people were hurt, and that trauma-informed care means that all of us have to stop asking ‘what’s the matter with that person?’…and we have to ask what happened to that person?”
As part of Monday’s commemoration, translations of the 2008 federal apology were released in seven Indigenous languages, including Plains Cree, Mi’kmaq, Mohawk, Western Ojibway, Inuktitut, Denisuline and Algonquin.
In her concluding remarks outside the House of Commons, Korkmaz said First Nations people need to keep fighting for their rights.
“As First Nations people we must embrace our uniqueness, our culture, our language, and claim the rightful ownership to our lands and resources,” she said.
“We will rise again and we will not be silenced anymore. We will stand united and demand the rights we were granted as First Nations people of Canada.”