APTN National News
Premier Kathleen Wynne apologized Monday for Ontario’s role in residential schools that forced Indigenous children into state sponsored, church-ran schools for generations.
“I apologize for the policies and practices supported by past Ontario governments and for the harm they caused. I apologize for the province’s silence in the face of abuses and deaths at residential schools,” said Wynne. “And I apologize for the fact that the residential schools are only one example of systemic, intergenerational injustices inflicted upon Indigenous communities throughout Canada.”
Wynne made the statement in Queen’s Park before Indigenous leaders, such as Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and residential school survivor Andrew Wesley.
“Canada’s residential schools are closed, but they have been closed for not even one generation,” said Wynne. “Echoes of their racist, colonial attitudes can still be heard. And the echoes of a society-wide, intergenerational effort of cultural genocide continue to reverberate loudly and painfully in the lives of Indigenous people today.”
Wynne spoke of treaties signed that granted settlers “land to live and water to drink”.
“Despite the promise of early treaties and the respectful, nation-to-nation partnerships they established, Indigenous Peoples became the target of colonial policies designed to exploit, assimilate and eradicate them,” said Wynne. “Based on racism, violence and deceit, these policies were devastatingly effective. They disempowered individuals and disenfranchised entire communities. When Canada became a country 149 years ago, the legacy of violent colonialism only gathered momentum.”
Day talked about the “unspeakable abuse,” the residential school survivors, their children and grandchildren have suffered.
“The vast majority of us as First Nations people across this land can speak of the direct impacts of this dark legacy,” he said.
“Yes, many of us have lived in the direct darkness and shadows of the evil that was so evident in so many of those schools.”
Wesley told the politicians that it took a long time before he could speak about his pain.
“The old ones tell us that when we come into this world we’re given one canoe and one paddle and as we travel the rivers of life, for many of us, the survivors, we got stuck in the rapids and we stayed there for many, many, many, many, many years before we start talking about the abuse,” he said.
Wesley got a standing ovation after his emotional plea to work together to heal the wounds of the past.
“We’re telling you the truth because we’re tired of being hurt,” he said. “We want to travel with the rest of you in a good way.”
Day said the apology from Wynne was a good start to “let the healing begin,” but warned too many Indigenous people are still living – and dying – in poverty.
Residential schools first opened in the late 1800s, and soon popped up across Canada and set out to “take the Indian out of the child” by removed them from their homes, said Wynne.
The children weren’t allowed to speak their language, and often were beaten if they did. Many were sexually abused, and thousands died.
“No apology changes the past, nor can the act of apology alone change the future. In making this apology, as in making the Political Accord last summer, I hope to demonstrate our government’s commitment to changing the future by building relationships based on trust, respect and Indigenous Peoples’ inherent right to self-government,” said Wynne. “The act of apology is not the end, nor is it the beginning. It is but one step on the journey to reconciliation and healing that we are committed to walking together.”
Wynne said the province is following the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that released its final report earlier this year detailing how devastating the schools were.
Wynne said her government plans to spend $250 million over three years in new initiatives, such as understanding the legacy of residential schools and fixing a justice system so it’s culturally relevant.
She said the Liberal government is committed to working with Indigenous leaders and communities.
Ontario becomes the third province to make an apology to residential school survivors behind Manitoba and Alberta.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for Canada’s role in the schools in 2008.
– with files from The Canadian Press