Former prime minister Stephen Harper apologized to students of Indian residential schools in 2007.
Fred Thomas says residential school ruined his life.
“There were 14 suicides in my family – can the government explain that and apologize?” he said.
So Thomas won’t be cutting any cake to mark Monday’s 10-year anniversary of the government’s official apology.
“Nothing much has changed,” added the former student from northwestern Ontario.
“When you apologize you follow up with action. Just like when you’re drunk; when you’re sober you apologize to your family for your actions.”
Mary Aubichon agrees.
She attended a Métis residential school in northern Saskatchewan that was not recognized by the federal government. So she was unable to apply for the financial compensation offered First Nations’ survivors.
“This has been going on too long for us,” she said of her groups’ struggle for damages.
“Somebody’s stalling…it seems like we’re running into walls here all the time.”
So that’s her message to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians alike – follow up the words “I’m sorry” with action.
“It’s time that we get recognized,” she said.
The apology was part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement that resolved a class-action lawsuit filed by residential school survivor and former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine.
It was the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history.
It provided money for commemoration, healing and compensation for 86,000 First Nations children forced to attend the schools between 1879 and 1996.
And it established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which gathered survivor testimony to help Canadians understand the damage inflicted.
“In that short space of time a lot has happened but there’s still so much to do,” said survivor Garnet Angeconeb of the last decade.
“We are just beginning in many ways.”
Marilyn Courchene of Manitoba says she was five when an Indian agent threatened her parents with jail if they didn’t send her to the local day school.
She says Canada has more to apologize for.
Students of day schools – who allege they were taunted, beaten and sexually abused despite sleeping in their own beds at night – haven’t settled their class-action lawsuit with the government.
And victims of forced adoption to non-Indigenous families – known as the ‘60s Scoop – are still fighting.
“They have to say, ‘We will work on our racism towards Indigenous nations’,” Courchene said in a telephone interview.
Asked if there’s any legacy of the last 10 years, Angeconeb points to the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action and the goal of renewing Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples.
“It has brought many conversations to many dining room tables across the country,” he said from Ontario.
“That’s the spirit of reconciliation at work.”