Mr. Gary Merasty (Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, Lib.)
|| That this House apologize to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools for the trauma they suffered as a result of policies intended to assimilate First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, causing the loss of aboriginal culture, heritage and language, while also leaving a sad legacy of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand today before this House to put forward a motion to offer an apology to the survivors of the Indian residential schools. It is my sincere hope that this motion asking Parliament to offer an apology to these survivors helps to facilitate the healing process, which has taken much too long to complete.
In her book, Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History, Canadian author Erna Paris examines the manipulation of history, using examples from all over the world, and how countries shape historical memory in the aftermath of tragic events. She argues that decisions made by those in power cast long shadows into the future and that countries must confront these painful historical episodes in order to resolve them and heal as a nation.
The process of reconciliation and justice is necessary to heal, but it can be difficult for a country to confront these painful episodes of the past. It is often easier to purposely forget unpleasant or distressing things, sweep them under the rug, so to speak, and move on.
Whether the sorrow involves a group or a nation, a national collective amnesia is often seen as the simplest solution; however, this does not work. Time and again, history has provided us with examples of nations trying to reinvent themselves after such dark and tragic periods in their history.
Canada is learning this lesson firsthand. Injustices of the past do indeed cast long shadows and always have a way of humbling a nation.
I applaud and deeply respect the survivors who persisted in telling their stories and reminding Canada of its long shadow.
Many positive steps have been taken in recent years to help reconcile the Government of Canada's past actions regarding the residential schools. However, a full apology is still missing.
A critical aspect of facilitating the healing process is to admit that a wrong was done and to apologize. Without an apology, healing is never completely achieved.
I stand here on behalf of my people, who suffered unspeakable abuses because of federal government sanctioned residential schools.
I stand here for my community, Pelican Narrows, Saskatchewan, and all first nations communities in Canada.
I stand here for the Métis and the Inuit, nations proud of their cultures, heritage and languages, nations whose suffering concerning residential schooling has often been ignored or overlooked.
I stand here for the countless parents who stood by watching powerlessly while some stranger, aided by the force of an unjust law, took away their children, took away their heart and soul, and took away their future.
Once taken away by strangers, separated from their own brothers and sisters, they would be made into strangers themselves, strangers to their parents and strangers to their own culture and their own language. Many of these children would eventually become strangers to their own identity.
I stand here for numerous victims whose stories will never be told, whose remains are scattered across our land in unmarked graves, scars on the land and even larger scars on our nation's psyche.
Many died in those schools because of illness and mistreatment. Many of the survivors witnessed scores of their contemporaries never making it home from these institutions. The survivors' lives have been marked by the tragic and unpleasant living memories of not only their own abuse, but also of the images of children who died. According to some reports, students in the early to middle part of the last century often had to help bury their classmates, their friends and their relatives.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, children buried children.
Above all else I stand for the children, now our elders, who have been denied their culture, their parents and the innocence of childhood, children who were made to feel inferior mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, children who were degraded and forced to live in unsanitary conditions that were criticized even for that period in time.
This motion, which fills me with pride to present today, also strikes a chord deep within me. It speaks to my people, who are again struggling to reassert their voice and reaffirm a heritage and a culture that have withstood terrible attacks, but I am also deeply proud of how strong first nations, Métis and Inuit people are. There is a strength and a resilience that will ensure they prosper far into the future.
It is not only the ties to my culture that make this motion so significant. It is that my own family has withstood this attack, an attack on our unity, our values and our identity as a family.
At the heart of this issue are people: regular people, average people and everyday people. We can call them whatever we want. They were parents who were forced to lose their children and their children were forced to go to these schools. They were parents who were not informed of the fate or the status of their children for weeks or months at a time.
This motion is for them, the strongest words I can offer. We offer these words to console them for their incredible loss, but to also offer them hope for a future based on truth and reconciliation as we seek to overcome the past.
With this apology, we hope to offer another necessary step at healing the collective intergenerational trauma that has lingered to this day. This is the legacy of the residential school era, but do Canadians truly understand? I think Canadians want to understand.
We have to ask ourselves if, as a country, we told the truth to Canadians. It is a tragic story. It is not pleasant and it is difficult to hear, but hear the truth we must, and it must begin with this government. We must confront these painful episodes of the past with the highest level of respect and honour.
According to an article in The Globe and Mail in July of last year by John Ibbitson, the Prime Minister delivered a speech in the United Kingdom in which he lauded British legacies of common law, parliamentary democracy and an open economy, declaring that “much of what Canada is today we can trace to our origins as a colony of the British Empire”.
It is unfashionable, the Prime Minister acknowledged, to speak of colonial legacies as anything other than oppressive. He said, “But in the Canadian context, the actions of the British Empire were largely benign and occasionally brilliant”. British magnanimity, he argued, ensured the survival of the French culture and British approaches to the aboriginal population, “while far from perfect, were some of the fairest and most generous of the period”.
I am not sure how the francophone community feels about the statement of British policies protecting the French culture, but I know for a fact that aboriginal people would not be too impressed with his assessment of past colonial practices as fair and generous.
The policy of the federal government at the time was to assimilate and to have Canada rid itself of its Indian problem. In 1914, a department official who was later put in charge of Canadian Indian policy, a man named Duncan Campbell Scott, stated in a report that it was quite within the mark to say that 50% of the children did not live to benefit from their education. Students died in massive numbers, due in large part to tuberculosis. I do not think this was seen as fair and generous then or now by aboriginal people or by Canadians.
To me it appears as though there is a disconnect between the version of history put forth by a Prime Minister to a foreign audience that British approaches to the aboriginal population were some of the fairest and most generous of the period. This greatly diverges from the version of history put forth by the testimonials of the survivors, federal government departmental officials from the time, and the extensive work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, among others.
This disconnect is precisely what Erna Paris wrote about. That is how the past is managed by those in power today to suit present day needs. I have to ask whose perception and whose needs the Prime Minister's statements suit. I can say that they are not tailored to suit the truth.
In some quarters and in some places, there is an unresolved struggle for the truth, a struggle concerning who gets to decide what actually happened in the past and who gets to decide how the tales are told. There has been recent exposure in the media about the lack of records of the fallen children from the residential schools and how countless forgotten victims are buried in unmarked graves. The loss of their stories is a loss of our history, and further weakens our ability to reconcile these past injustices.
The federal government has woven a version of past events which fits the perception it wants Canadians and the world to see. The government wants, as Erna Paris stated, to shape the historical memory of this period to minimize what actually occurred.
It is within this context that this government unequivocally stated that an apology is not necessary, suggesting that the settlement is enough. I ask myself, “Why the double standard?”
Suggestions have been made that, “Aboriginal people should get over it” and “What else do they want?” These statements are another form of abuse. I hope that these statements come from misunderstanding and not from a more sinister place.
I have seen and I have heard of survivors who received the advance payment. They simply turn it over to their adult children, saying that they were sorry for screwing up their lives, that they should have been stronger while in the residential schools, and that they should have been better parents. They blame themselves. They were children.
What is so difficult to understand? Simply, an apology would represent the manifestation of listening and hearing the truth, and understanding the hurt caused. An apology would say that Canada cares, that Canadians care, and that we are sorry.
But there are supposed barriers to this apology. Let me address some concerns I have heard regarding whether an apology to residential school survivors is necessary.
First, some would argue that the churches were the ones to blame and that government was an impassionate observer, simply an entity that provided funds.
Yes, the churches had a culpable role, but the Government of Canada cannot deny its role in the residential schools era. The Government of Canada acted as both the funding entity for the system and the provider of the overall policy guidelines that attempted to educate and colonize a people against their will.
Worse still, government inspectors and officials knew for decades about the inhumane conditions at these schools, including disease, overcrowding, hunger, disrepair, yet little was done to rectify the situation, and for many it was too late.
Second, I have heard that some people believe an apology had already been given. This is not the case.
It is true that the former Liberal government issued a statement of reconciliation in 1998. This was an important milestone, an important acknowledgement of the abuses that had been suffered and marked the beginning of the process that led to the Indian residential school settlement. However, it was not an apology.
The third reason not to offer an apology, which was offered to me when I asked, was that it was a legal issue. However, the minister has now stated he is not refusing to apologize because of any legal issue.
Finally, I have heard that since an apology was not part of the Indian residential school agreement, it should not be given. This is a rather absurd argument to make, for many reasons.
First, it has been recognized that in 2005 the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations had agreed that there should be an apology. The deputy prime minister at the time stated:
||--there is a need for an apology that will provide a broader recognition of the Indian Residential Schools legacy and its effect upon First Nation communities [once the agreement was finalized].
With the Conservatives becoming government, it fell to them to honour this commitment by the Government of Canada to issue an official apology.
First nations, Métis and Inuit people have since, collectively and individually, called for this apology. The Conservatives have refused to uphold this duty and have denied that there is even a need for an apology. The Indian Affairs Minister went so far as to say that since the goal of the schools was to educate aboriginal children there is no need to apologize.
Again, we have an example of how this government is trying to reshape historical memory to suit the needs of those who are in power at the expense of all. Not only is this remark ignorant to the realities of the residential school era, it also demeans and disrespects those who survived, and those who did not.
I hope the minister finds his comment to be personally regrettable, as it is simply not true. I hope he respectfully withdraws his remarks and reconsiders the need for an apology.
The residential school agreement was the right thing to do. The minister and the government can take all the credit in the world for it, it does not matter to me. It was simply the right thing to do.
First nations, Métis and Inuit people sacrificed much to establish this country that we are all very proud of and call home. Canada is a country that attempts to be the most humane and generous in the world. People come to this great land to experience Canada's compassion and are proud to become new Canadians. It is ironic that the compassion that this country is known for, compassion first extended by the original peoples of this land, will not be extended to them by this government.
It is simply about this: an apology to residential school survivors for the calculated, intentional government policy of the day that specifically targeted children in order to undermine forever first nations, Métis and Inuit languages, traditions, beliefs, spirituality, family and community ties, in effect, to paraphrase a senior government official of the day, to rid Canada of its Indian problem.
Now I know that many of the examples I have given and the language I have chosen sound harsh and some would suggest that I crossed the line. Perhaps I did. However, historical records have not been all that accurate in documenting this aspect of Canadian history. Also, I am shocked that the federal government would want to reshape historical memory minimizing the impacts of the residential school era.
If it were not for the survivors demanding to be heard, if it were not for the groundbreaking work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, if it were not for the outstanding work of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, many of these harsh truths would remain swept under the rug.
The reasons for an apology are clear. The Government of Canada cannot deny its role in establishing and sanctioning the residential schools. Until an apology is made, this dark period in time will continue to cast a long shadow that we cannot run away from.
I humbly ask all members of this House to support my motion apologizing to the survivors and calling upon the government to move forward with an apology to all residential school survivors past and present. Let us remove the long shadows of injustice.
I hope the government will join me in offering this apology. I extend it to the Conservatives as an offer of partnership and respect. In the Cree language there is a phrase that I want to repeat.
[Member spoke in Cree]
Roughly translated this talks about respect between peoples, respect of our pasts, respect of our histories, respect in a deeper meaning than we probably even understand right now. This is what the survivors are asking for, respect for the experiences they went through and an apology.
Hon. Jim Prentice (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, in beginning I dedicate my words to something that has previously been written in this country by one of my favourite authors, Aritha van Herk in the book, Mavericks
, where she wrote:
|| Demolished by diseases like smallpox and tuberculosis, struggling with byzantine and ridiculous rules, fighting to stay alive, Alberta's First Peoples have enacted an astonishing feat by refusing to fade away and vanish. For all the deliberate or accidental attempts to erase their presence--
I thank the hon. member for bringing this matter before the House today. I hope in my comments to raise our discussion beyond partisanship to frame a debate that will carry Parliament and indeed this country beyond partisanship and the pointing of accusations. For the sake of all of us, for the sake of Canada, I hope that we can all rise to the level of that requirement. I hope that we all avoid crossing the line. In dealing with this sad chapter of Canadian history, we will all require that. Both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians will require that we do that. At the end of the day, the truth and reconciliation commission that is so fundamental to the process in which we are now engaged will require us as parliamentarians to rise to that level.
I observe, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu did in a previous context, that neither genuine repentance nor atonement on the one hand, nor forgiveness on the other is possible in the shadow of partisanship.
I begin therefore by saying that the government will support the motion of the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. The House should apologize and I am confident at the end of the day that this House will apologize.
The obligations on the other hand of the executive branch of government tied inextricably to the terms of the residential schools agreement and to the eventual results of the truth and reconciliation commission require some discussion in the House. I propose to deal with that in my comments.
It is important that the historical record reflect accurately upon this matter. I have not been in the House for much of my life, but I have been here for three years at this point. I am somewhat taken aback at how quickly revisionism has taken over what has transpired with respect to the residential schools matter. While partisanship can be forgiven in that I suppose all members of the House from time to time seek refuge there, the revision of Canadian history is an entirely different matter which I am not prepared to countenance in this House.
It is this government that brought an end to the denials of the past. It is this government that executed on May 8, 2006 the residential schools agreement, negotiated after much effort with the lawyers involved on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations, the class action plaintiffs representing some 12,000 individuals in this country, the Assembly of First Nations and the churches of Canada.
An apology on the part of the House of Commons is necessary and the truth and reconciliation commission, of which I intend to speak, will deal with this in some detail. However, as we begin, I have been reading a book entitled A National Crime by John Milloy. In asking why the House of Commons should apologize, I would simply quote from the introduction, which in part is a conclusion of the book. Mr. Milloy asks:
|| How did this happen? How were responsibility and Christianity perverted?
He concludes as follows:
||--one conclusion becomes unavoidable: despite the discourse of civil and spiritual duty that framed the school system, there never was invested in this project the financial or human resources required to ensure that the system achieved its “civilizing” ends or that children were cared for properly. Nor was there ever brought to bear the moral resources necessary to respond to systemic neglect or to the many instances of stark physical abuse that were known to be occurring. Furthermore, it is clear that throughout the history of the system, the church-state partners were aware of these sorrowful circumstances and, moreover, that they came to understand the detrimental repercussions for all Aboriginal children of their residential school experience.
That in summation encapsulates what we will probably hear more of from the truth and reconciliation commission over time.
All of this began in Canada many years ago. This school system was conceived in the period leading up to 1892, was brought to fruition in the years thereafter and was not entirely dismantled in this country until the last 1970s.
The apportionment of blame and responsibility in that context is one in which many Canadian governments have a responsibility to share. This system was conceived and carried forward under successive Canadian governments for close to 100 years, so it is part of our collective history. This sad chapter of what happened in our country is something that we will collectively need to come to grips with and, to return to my comments, it is something that we will only come to grips with if we do so in a fair way, without accusations, recriminations, and without the pointing of fingers in that respect. The truth and reconciliation commission, which I wish to speak to at this point, will be fundamental to all of that.
The history of this matter is that there were approximately 130 residential schools in this country operated by four major church denominations, the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the United church and the Catholic church. The total attendance at these schools was over 150,000 aboriginal Canadians. There are 80,000 aboriginal Canadians alive today who attended these schools. The descendants of those people number somewhere between 250,000 and 350,000 Canadians.
In 1990, the first lawsuits were filed against the Government of Canada in respect of this matter. In 1998, as my friend has pointed out, in a statement of reconciliation Canada acknowledged its role in the Indian residential school system. In 1998, much was accomplished with the creation of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which had a $350 million endowment and $40 million in additional funding provided thereafter. This foundation administered in excess of 1,300 individual community projects to come to grips with this chapter in Canadian history.
In 2003, a national resolution framework was launched to contribute to reconciliation but at that time the matter continued to move forward in this country by way of litigation, class action lawsuits between first nation claimants and the Government of Canada. At that time, an alternate dispute resolution was put in place.
In the 38th Parliament of Canada, which is where I am concerned about some of the revisionist history that has taken place here, the Conservative Party was in opposition. I would point out for the record, for posterity if I may, that the Conservative Party not only has led the way on this matter by finalizing the agreement of May 8, 2006, but the Conservative Party, together with the other opposition parties in the House of Commons at that time, fundamentally drove the process that led to the residential school agreement.
One need look no further than the report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, which was finalized on April 7, 2005 with the cooperation of the then opposition parties in the House of Commons, the Bloc, the NDP and the Conservative Party. At the end of the day, it was opposed by the Liberal government, opposed by the Liberals at committee and during a concurrence motion that passed by one vote in this House of Commons. If we wish history to be clear, one need only look at the report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development of April 7, 2005.
At that time, the state of affairs in this country was that we had an alternate dispute resolution process which had been the subject of continuing pressure and questioning in question period because it had been disclosed that of every dollar spent in dealing with the claims of people who had been wronged by the residential school system, 80¢ was spent on bureaucracy, civil servants, lawyers, experts, adjudicators and only 20¢ made its way through to the victims of this sad chapter in Canadian history.
At one point it was a celebrated case that disclosed these facts. The system was so hamstrung with rules that an elderly woman in her eighties had taken her ADR case forward and it turned out that her allegation of physical cruelty was that she had been confined in a closet, as I recall, for three days with her sister. Her claim was disallowed on the basis that she had not been confined solitarily. That is the sort of thing that was going on only three years ago in this country before this government concluded this agreement.
The April 7, 2005 report of the standing committee left nothing to the imagination. It documented the failings of the process at that time, the absence of any even-handed process; the absence of adequate compensation, terming the compensation to be grossly inadequate; documenting that “the process was proceeding too slowly allowing too many former students to die uncompensated”; and that it used a dispute resolution process that was disrespectfully humiliating and unfeeling and which revictimized former students.
I recall being in committee when members of the Conservative Party pointed out to the government at that time that they had never in their time in the House of Commons as members of Parliament heard testimony as moving as what they heard in the work leading up to this report.
It was pointed out at that time that there were high structural costs and an egregious burden of proof and that it was a process that students did not trust. The committee, at the end of the day, in a report that was quite straightforward and was three pages in length, expressed its regret at the manner in which the alternate dispute resolution process was being administered and provided eight very straightforward recommendations at that time.
The first was that the government proceed with urgency. The second was that it terminate the alternate dispute resolution process. The third was this. If one wants to find the source of the residential school agreement that today provides some hope for this country and some reconciliation of where we are going to go, it lies in the third recommendation of the report, which is as follows:
|| That the Government engage in court-supervised negotiations with former students to achieve a court-approved, court-enforced settlement for compensation that relieves the Government of its liability for those former students who are able to establish a cause of action and a lawful entitlement to compensation.
For the first time, a recommendation from the House of Commons, approved in a concurrence proceeding, that there be court supervised negotiations with former students, court approved and a court enforced settlement. At the end of the day that is exactly what this government did on May 8, 2006.
In addition, there were comments with respect to legal fees. A recommendation was made that there be an expedited settlement of those claims involving aggravated circumstances, such as sexual and severe physical abuse. Again, at the end of the day that is precisely where this government has arrived at.
However, I wish to emphasize in particular Recommendation No. 6:
|| That the Government, to ensure that former students have the opportunity to tell their stories to all Canadians in a process characterized by dignity and respect, cause a national truth and reconciliation process to take place in a forum that validates the worth of the former students and honours the memory of all children who attended the schools.
Therein lies of the birth of that concept as a way forward for this country. It is a concept that I feel strongly about. A little known matter in this House is that I spent some time in South Africa in the days after apartheid as South Africa moved from apartheid to its current form. I was a constitutional adviser to an organization there that was dealing with the dismantlement of the apartheid structure.
I watched as the truth and reconciliation commission that was struck in South Africa unfolded. I watched how it assisted South Africa in coming to grips with a very sad chapter of its history. I became a believer in the importance of that kind of an approach as a method for this country to come to grips with the sad chapter of Canadian history, a forum that would allow all Canadians, but in particular first nations citizens who had been victimized by this process, an opportunity and a way to come forward to tell their stories to ensure that their stories were recounted and recorded in Canadian history and a method, at the end of the day, for all of us to come to grips with a chapter in Canadian history that belongs to no single party, to no single government, but to all of us as Canadians as a result of 100 years of history.
In the days following that, Mr. Frank Iacobucci, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, was appointed as the government's representative and the search for a court supervised settlement process began and an interim agreement was announced, as I recall, on November 23, 2005, having been concluded on November 20, 2005.
That, of course, was in the shadow of the election of December 2005. During the election, the Conservative Party indicated at that time that it would be supportive of such an agreement provided two conditions were met. The first was that the final agreement needed to be concluded, and the second was that court approval needed to be secured. Neither of those steps had been taken in February 2006 when the Conservative government was elected.
I can assure the House that although the residential school matter was not, strictly speaking, the responsibility of the Minister of Indian Affairs, in the days following the formation of the government, responsibility rested elsewhere in the government. I took the completion of this agreement very seriously and I can tell the House there were extensive meetings in my office with Mr. Justice Iacobucci and Mr. Phil Fontaine with the Assembly of First Nations and we struggled to bring this to a close. We struggled to bring the resolution of the terms of the agreement such that it could be taken forward for a court approved process.
There were extensive negotiations dealing with a number of outstanding difficult questions at that time: how to arrive at a final agreement, how to ensure adequate financial provisions were made in budgetary sense for this agreement and how to arrive at an agreement that would be in the best interests of all Canadians. The Minister of Canadian Heritage, I should say for the sake of the record, was very involved in this at that time.
At the end of the day, the agreement that has been concluded required extensive work over the last year to complete. The court process involved proceeding forward with nine jurisdictions to secure court approval. That process is not entirely finished at this stage. It has been approved by all nine jurisdictions but the terms of the agreement provide for an opt out period. The essence of the opt out period is that if an adequate number of first nations claimants decide that they do not wish to be part of this agreement, then the agreement is voidable at the option of the government. Therefore, the legal process is not yet completed and is moving forward.
The agreement, as everyone knows, is a very fair and generous agreement, one which I take immense personal satisfaction in as a Canadian in seeing come to fruition and one in which this government takes pride. It provides, importantly, for a truth and reconciliation commission that will be established together with a research centre with a budget of $60 million and a five year mandate. The government is currently engaged in the process of selecting the three commissioners, one of whom must be an aboriginal Canadian.
It is my sincere hope, as happened in South Africa, that this matter will be dealt with, that the whole issue of apologies, the whole issue of how this country is to find a way forward will be dealt with by the truth and reconciliation commission, that it will be dealt with in a manner that speaks to the dignity and the integrity of the Canadian people in wanting to come to grips with this chapter of our history, and that the executive branch of government will need to see that document because the full history of this will not be disclosed. We will not have explored the full depths of the history of the residential school agreement of this chapter of Canadian history until the work of that commission has finished.
Mr. Yvon Lévesque (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Laurentides—Labelle.
I am pleased to speak to the House today on residential schools. This will allow us to move things forward for the most affected parties, namely, aboriginals, Inuit and Métis, who, not all that long ago, were referred to as Indians and were seen as somewhat different from us.
I am familiar with residential schools, although not as much as the people I will be telling you about today. Nor were my experiences the same as theirs. I believe I know a little about these institutions from having attended them throughout my childhood, since I was an orphan. The family that raised me could not find the means to give me what they considered a reasonable education on their own. They therefore went to the local bishop for help. At the time, that was the only way to get any help.
I still remember returning to school every September, at a residential school not far from Quebec City, where I would stay for the entire school year, that is, from September of one year to the end of the following June. I am originally from Bas-du-Fleuve, more specifically the Matapédia valley. Of course, the return trip home would have been too expensive for the family that raised me. I swore to myself at the time that my own children would never go to such a school, because every time I went home, I felt like I had new parents and new siblings whom I had to get to know all over again during my summer holidays, which were always too short. I think this could be described as “learning the hard way”.
When I was 13, two months shy of my 14th birthday, I went to work in Abitibi. I did not see my parents again until 10 years later. My first job was loading planed wood onto rail cars. My partner was an Indian, as they were called at the time. He was the kind of man who never raised his voice. Around four in the morning, working a shift that had started at six the night before, when he saw that I was having a hard time handling 8 x 8 x 16 lumber, he would take one end of the board to help me, then load his own, and that went on until six in the morning. I worked at that job for five months, and I never heard him complain. He had been working there for eight years. He had gone to a residential school until he was 15. He did not live with the other employees because he had a little camp on the river. It was not until I went to visit him there that I began to learn about his life story.
When I moved to Val-d'Or, I drove a taxi a lot. Nights and weekends, I often drove one or two aboriginal families who were taking their children back to the residential school near Amos. They spoke French to me, but among themselves, they spoke Indian. To me, Cree and Algonquin were the same language. However, when they cried as they left their children behind, no translation was necessary. The residential school was not very far from their reserve. It took about an hour and a half or two hours to get there, but they had other children and could not afford the trip except to go back for their kids the following summer.
At the time, it seemed obvious to me—and I kept thinking about it because it was so striking—that while I could not understand them on the way there, I had no trouble understanding them on the way back because they were speaking French. Please understand that my pleasure at hearing them speak French was not selfish. From my perspective, I thought that since the English had forced us to speak English, it made sense for them to learn French. My thoughts on the matter were well intended.
Nevertheless, when they arrived at their reserve, it was astounding to observe the parents translating what the children were saying to the grandparents. At that time, my first thought was that the poor old folks had not been lucky enough to learn French like the young ones. Perhaps we were also an oppressed people at that time.
It was not until many years later that I truly understood the magnitude of what I had experienced, even though I counted some aboriginals among my friends.
In the 1980s, I played hockey with one of these friends, who had attended the Canadian junior training camp. I liked to tease him because he did not want to go out for a beer with the others; quite often I would have a soft drink with him. One evening he said I should help him to find some courses in Anishinabe and Cree. I was incredulous. He said that his entire education had been provided at an Indian residential school and that they had taken away his language, his culture and his family. He could not read or write in either Cree or Anishinabe. Therefore, he had no access to his history and his culture.
It was at that moment, I think, that I understood the scope of the experience without even knowing the other abuses suffered. It is somewhat embarrassing to admit this kind of thing. I have come to understand, since being elected, that I did not yet know everything. Today, I am even sure that had he not been aboriginal, he would have been a member of the Canadian junior team because he was really good.
I still see him. In fact I saw him not too long ago when we got the first nations pavilion on the Val-d'Or campus. It was really something to see the look on his face. It was a look of complete satisfaction and hope. He knows that the university will train first nations teachers in their language and their culture. I know that he will try to be there, maybe not to teach—although you never know—but rather to learn to read and write in his mother tongue, Cree, and in the language of his father's side, Anishnabe.
Have they suffered? I think so. Have they healed? I do not think most of them have. I am not an expert, but to hear them speak, if they can learn to master their language, it would be a positive step.
The Bloc will support this motion that the House apologize to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools for the trauma they suffered as a result of policies intended to assimilate first nations, Inuit and Métis children, causing the loss of aboriginal culture, heritage and language, while also leaving a sad legacy of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Ms. Johanne Deschamps (Laurentides—Labelle, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for sharing his time with me so that I can speak to the motion we are debating today, which I feel is of crucial importance to a country like Canada, which claims to be one of the most morally advanced countries in the world.
The Bloc Québécois members support the motion calling for an apology, which the victims of residential schools and their families have been awaiting for so long.
The Bloc Québécois therefore supports the motion by my Liberal colleague from Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.
We must not kid ourselves: the final Indian residential schools settlement agreement was nothing but a salve on the wounds of broken lives. It was a great day for the victims of residential schools and for all those who cherish justice, respect and compassion. But it will not make up for the ravages that many native people will never get over. However, the Bloc Québécois was firmly convinced that the agreement was the foundation for restoring social justice and promoting reconciliation and healing.
Today's motion gives the Prime Minister the opportunity to apologize to the victims and their families on behalf of the Government of Canada.
It is important to remember that Indian residential schools were designed to solve the “Indian problem” by tearing aboriginal children away from their homes and families to prevent them from learning about their culture, their language, and the ties that bind them to the land. Many lived in inhuman conditions and suffered physical and sexual abuse.
During that period, from 1870 through the mid-1980s, the Canadian government also took away aboriginal women’s status as Indians under the federal Indian Act, along with their right to live in their home communities, if they married a non-aboriginal man or a man from another community.
This policy resulted in the uprooting of tens of thousands of aboriginal women, jeopardizing their ties to their families and increasing their dependence on their spouses.
Even as the residential school system was being phased out through the 1960s, aboriginal children continued to be taken from their families by child welfare programs oriented toward putting children in the care of the state rather than addressing the circumstances of poverty and family violence that placed the children at risk—a problem that persists today.
The legacy of these policies has been the erosion of culture, the uprooting of generations of aboriginal women, the separation of children from their parents, and a cycle of impoverishment, despair and broken self-esteem that continues to grip many aboriginal families.
In 1996, the year the last residential school in Saskatchewan closed, the federal government’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples concluded:
|| Repeated assaults on the culture and collective identity of aboriginal people have weakened the foundations of aboriginal society and contributed to the alienation that drives some to self-destruction and anti-social behaviour. Social problems among aboriginal people are, in large measure, a legacy of history.
As a woman and the Bloc Québécois critic on the status of women and a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, the situation of aboriginal women concerns me very much.
A number of women representing aboriginal groups have come to the committee to describe the conditions in which they live. They cope with higher rates of poverty and violence than aboriginal men and non-aboriginal women do. They carry a double burden: they suffer all the inequities inflicted on all women, but they also have to deal with the disadvantages common to aboriginal peoples across Canada.
The following are a few examples to illustrate the seriousness of their current situation:
Aboriginal women are twice as likely as non-aboriginal women to live in poverty and are therefore particularly affected by the social assistance policies of the provincial and territorial governments; a disproportionate number of them—roughly twice as many as non-aboriginal women—head a single parent family; on the reserves, 32% of children live with just one parent, while this is the case in 46% of the aboriginal families living off reserve; aboriginal women are five times more likely to be victims of violence in their lifetime than any other woman in Canada.
A disproportionately high number of them work in poorly paid jobs. Aboriginal women with less than a grade nine education earn less than aboriginal men and non-aboriginal women. At $12,300, the average annual income of aboriginal women is the lowest of any social group in Canada.
However, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to accurately quantify these data. Due to lack of funding from the Canadian government, few relevant studies and analyses are available.
All of this proves that the Government of Canada is acting completely irresponsibly toward this country's aboriginal people and, more specifically, toward aboriginal women. It is hard to believe that even now, in 2007, Canada is refusing to do its part to protect the rights of aboriginal women in Canada. It is even harder to believe that Canada is keeping this country's aboriginal communities in a state that looks a lot more like a humanitarian situation in a developing country than like something one would expect to see in the kind of rich, developed country Canada is supposed to be.
Yet solutions exist. While Quebec's aboriginal communities still have a long way to go, their progress sets them apart from those in the rest of Canada. In 2002, Bernard Landry's government signed the peace of the braves agreement. Twenty-five years before that, René Lévesque's government signed the James Bay agreement. These two agreements illustrate the Government of Quebec's level of respect for the aboriginal peoples living in the province.
Wendake in the Quebec City region, Essipit on the North Shore, and Mashteuiatsh near Lac-Saint-Jean have all proven that when governments give aboriginal communities the tools for development, success is possible.
Unfortunately, there are still communities like Kitcisakik in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, where the situation has more in common with what is happening elsewhere in Canada: a deplorable lack of sanitation infrastructure, housing and jobs. The Conservative government's decisions are doing nothing to help aboriginal communities—least of all aboriginal women—take charge of their own future. The first thing the Conservative government did to show its disregard for first nations was cancel the Kelowna accord. Although the accord was just an agreement in principle, it was helping to repair the damage wrought by the growing quality of life gap between aboriginals and other Canadians.
Add to that the $5 million slashed from the Status of Women Canada budget, resulting in the closing of 12 of its 16 offices as well as changes to eligibility criteria for the women's program. This has led to the exclusion of women's rights groups and women's lobby groups.
This program was the major source of research funding for native women's rights groups in Canada. The research sought to assess the extent of violence against native women, among other things. It will now be very difficult, if not impossible, for these groups to conduct research and produce such studies. The elimination of the court challenges program is another good example of the ideological blindness of this government and its inability to understand the issues affecting the most disadvantaged and minority groups.
By abolishing this program, the Conservatives hope to silence all those who do not share their neo-liberal vision. Next Thursday will mark the third anniversary of the publication of Pay Equity: A New Approach to a Fundamental Right, the final report of the federal Pay Equity Task Force. The recommendations of this report, tabled in May 2004, have never been adopted by the federal government. Pay equity is obviously not a priority for the Conservative government, which has deliberately chosen to ignore the report's recommendations, particularly the enactment of proactive pay equity legislation.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois endorsed the main recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Erasmus-Dussault report, which set out an approach for self-government based on recognition of aboriginal governments as a level of government with authority over issues of good governance and the well-being of their people. The entire report is based on recognition of the aboriginal peoples as self-governing nations occupying a unique place in Canada.
We recognize the aboriginal peoples as distinct peoples having the right to their culture, language, customs and traditions as well as the right to direct the development of their own identity.
I will close by calling on this government to show more respect for the native peoples of Canada. It has made a financial atonement for the abuses they suffered in residential schools; however, the time for apologies has come. Human dignity cannot be bought with money.
Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Sault Ste. Marie.
I want to begin by acknowledging the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River for bringing this important motion before the House. With the long, sad and tragic history and the unimaginable consequences for survivors, their families and the communities, it is long past the time for the House and the government to issue an apology for the survivors of residential schools.
I also want to acknowledge and thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for his tireless work on the file on residential schools. He has been a tireless advocate and defender and champion of ensuring there was an adequate agreement on residential schools that moved in a timely fashion.
The one thing we do know is that residential schools were not just about the survivors. It was also about their families and their communities. In a book called Journeying forward: Dreaming First Nations' independence by Patricia Monture-Angus, she talks about the reality of residential schools and talks about it in a way that is respectful, to use the words of people who were involved. She says:
|| What would you do if you were a child being removed from your parents' arms? Would you scream, “Mom, help! Mom, help!”? What would you do if you saw your parents standing there helplessly? Would you feel, “They should have stopped them from taking me”? What would you feel if you had arrived in that big building where there were people speaking a funny language and when you spoke the language you knew, you were hit and told to speak in that strange language? What if your culture taught that your hair was part of your spirit, and the strange people cut off your hair...?
She goes on to talk about the fact that, just as these children were abused in innumerable ways in residential schools, when people came back to their communities it had a long-lasting impact on their families. She says:
|| In my opinion, there has been enough written that focuses on the specific harms, often cataloguing the crimes, inflicted on First Nations children. This very narrow focus operates to conceal the outcomes and impacts those schools have had on our families and communities. My point is not to minimize the harms done to individuals but to make clearly the point that these crimes are just a small portion of the actual impact. One of the things that needs to be considered is the simple fact that we did survive the genocidal educational attempts of Canadian authorities.
Those are very strong words but it is important to talk about what happened to children in those schools. The RCAP report eloquently lays out the challenges that were faced by first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples across this country for so many decades. In Volume 1 of the RCAP report, under “Looking Forward Looking Back, Chapter 10 -- Residential Schools”, it lays out the litany of not only physical neglect, but emotional and spiritual neglect as well.
The RCAP report states that there were:
||--systemic problems, particularly the lack of financial resources, the persistence of those problems and the unrelieved neglect of the children can be explained only in the context of another deficit — the lack of moral resources, the abrogation of parental responsibility. The avalanche of reports on the condition of children — hungry, malnourished, ill-clothed, dying of tuberculosis, overworked — failed to move either the churches or successive governments past the point of intention and on to concerted and effective remedial action.
The remedial action was not only around righting the wrongs and ensuring the children were well cared for and returned to their parents so that culture and language could survive but also around the sexual and physical abuse that many of those children suffered. Part of the remedy must be an apology.
In the section entitled “Discipline and Abuse”, the report goes on to state:
|| The basic premise of resocialization, of the great transformation from 'savage' to 'civilized', was violent. “To kill the Indian in the child”, the department aimed at severing the artery of culture that ran between generations and was the profound connection between parent and child sustaining family and community.
Finally, part of what is before the House today is a need for a profound apology by members of the House and certainly from the government.
The report concludes by stating:
|| Rather than attempting to close the door on the past, looking only to the future of communities, the terrible facts of the residential school system must be made a part of a new sense of what Canada has been and will continue to be for as long as that record is not officially recognized and repudiated. Only by such an act of recognition and repudiation can a start be made on a very different future. Canada and Canadians must realize that they need to consider changing their society so that they can discover ways of living in harmony with the original people of the land
I would argue that until we have a heartfelt apology from the very root of our being, first nations, Métis and Inuit people cannot get on with claiming their space as the original inhabitants of this land.
As well, we talk often about first nations, but it is very important that we also talk about Métis and Inuit peoples as well, because they were also a part of the residential school system. The RCAP report talks about how the things that happened in the south also happened in the northern part of this country. The RCAP report states:
|| In the north, as in the south in the days before integration, the government with its church partners presumed to stand in the place of the children's parents, taking children into residential schools so they could “face the future in a realistic manner”--that being “as true Canadian citizens”. Unfortunately, the record of this national presumption, whether traced in the north or the south cannot be drawn as a “circle of civilized conditions”.
I would suggest that there is not one member in this House who would willingly give up his or her children to live in the conditions that first nations, Métis and Inuit children lived in.
When it comes to the Métis peoples, there have been lengthy discussions around the inclusion of Métis people. In fact, the current Prime Minister made a promise to take action around the Ile a la Crosse school. I have a number of letters here, which I of course will not read because it would take far more than the 10 minutes allotted, but I want to read just one for members. It says:
|| During the election campaign, while [I was] listening to the MBC radio station, your Conservative Party advertisement stated that if your party was elected and formed the government that you would include the Boarding School at Ile a la Crosse in...the compensation package dealing with the Indian Residential School Survivors.
|| I am from the village of Buffalo Narrows, Saskatchewan, and attended the Ile a la Crosse Boarding School for 10 years....
Therefore, although we absolutely need this apology, we also need action on other matters facing Métis people, Inuit people and first nations people in this country to ensure that we make an attempt to right some of these wrongs. Certainly one of them would be recognition of schools such as Ile a la Crosse and Timber Bay for the Métis peoples.
In the context of the schools, I did hear the minister get up and say that the government would support an apology by the House, but we also feel that it would be important to have the Prime Minister apologize as a representative of the sitting government, although I am not optimistic, given the minister's quote in the Globe and Mail from March 27, when he said:
|| I've said quite clearly that the residential school chapter of our history is one that was a difficult chapter. Many things happened that we need to close the door on as part of Canadian history, but fundamentally, the underlying objective had been to try and provide an education to aboriginal children and I think the circumstances are completely different from Maher Arar or also from the Chinese head tax.
Whether it was an attempt at assimilation or an attempt at genocide, or a misguided attempt to educate people in a way that the people of the day would not have imagined educating their own children, surely Canadians owe an apology to first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in this country.
As well as looking at the issues around the need for an apology, we also need to take a look at the additional supports that are required in order for first nations, Métis and Inuit communities to truly heal. I would argue that we need to ensure funds are in place for such things as the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which supports that healing in communities. We know that many communities have moved on and have healing programs in place that are truly helping communities recover, but we must continue to work with first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples to develop and design programs that meet communities' needs to have that healing truly take place.
In conclusion, I encourage each and every member of this House to support this motion and call on the House to issue that apology quickly.
Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this very important issue in the House.
I first want to thank the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River for bringing forward this resolution challenging all of us in this place to come forward and issue a collective apology to our first nations with respect to the residential school situation that we are still trying to resolve in this country.
I also want to thank my own colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, for the excellent work she is doing to try to move this item forward and get justice done in this country for all of the really important people concerned.
In my own community of Sault Ste. Marie, there is an elderly gentleman named Fred who walks his bike around town, winter, summer, fall and spring. We can see Fred walking his bike, with his belongings, around the city of Sault Ste. Marie. Fred is a survivor of residential schools. Fred has become a bit of an institution in our city and is much loved by everyone.
On the day the agreement on residential schools was signed, not that long ago, I was on my way to a luncheon with the Shingwauk survivors of residential schools in my city, who have been meeting for a number of years now to keep themselves together and to provide support as they, in partnership with all of the other survivors across the country, interacted and spoke with government to try to find resolution. They were having a luncheon on this particular day, pre-set by some number of months. They meet regularly, but on that day they were going to be celebrating the agreement.
That day, as I drove down Queen Street to the luncheon, I saw something that I had never seen before. Fred actually was riding his bicycle. That is how important this agreement was to him and to the folks he was going to be joining for lunch that day. All of them there, Fred included, told me that without an apology from the government for the wrongs that were done to these wonderful, noble people, this journey would not be complete.
Therefore, I think it is very important that today we in the House, both in participating in the debate and in the vote that will take place soon after, together send a message to our first nations people that we are sorry for the damage that was done, for the wrong that was imposed, and indicate that we want to move forward from here in a way that speaks of further growth, development and partnership that reflects a respect for the culture, the history and the traditions of our first nations people.
In my own community, the obvious example of a residential school was of course the Shingwauk Indian Residential School experience. It is interesting, because the Shingwauk Indian Residential School reflects the wonderful history, tradition and past of our first nations people, building and living out their vision of what it is to be fully engaged and involved in their land and in this country, in partnership, in many ways, with the new arrivals, as they reached out to share, to include and to work them with in order to protect a way of living that they knew was vital and valuable and that they wanted to pass on to future generations.
Chief Shingwauk was chief of the Ojibwa. He was loyal to King George and fought along with the British army in many engagements. He fought alongside Tecumseh against the Americans in the war of 1812. He represented the Ojibwa in signing the Robinson-Huron Treaty in 1850. This treaty set aside, for example, the Garden River Reserve for Ojibwa in my riding. That school closed in 1970.
Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association estimates that there are approximately 2,000 survivors in the Algoma Manitoulin region who are waiting for this apology today and, in fact, a more formal apology from the government itself in the not too distant future.
The Shingwauk alumni council emphasizes that all the elements of the comprehensive strategy are equally important and must be fully developed and fully implemented. It says that a full and formal apology, a settlement package for all former students, a revised ADR process that will address serious abuse, long term community based healing programs, resources and means to support survivor based organizations, a truth and reconciliation process involving all Canadians, a nation-wide education strategy, commemoration and other identified elements are appropriate. However, central to all of this is this full and formal apology.
They are not the only ones calling for this apology. Church groups, which were involved in this very damaging and difficult time of our history, are calling for an apology as well. In fact, as we speak, a meeting is going on in Winnipeg of chiefs. They are discussing this very issue.
Three Protestant national churches have called for a full national apology by the Canadian government: the Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches. Reverend James Scott, the United Church's general council officer for residential schools, said:
|| It is a living legacy, the pain is in the present. Apology can be a significant step toward healing our broken relationships.
He also said:
|| It is completely unacceptable for the [the Prime Minister's]government to use the fact that an apology was not part of the Settlement Agreement as an excuse not to apologize....After all, the Common Experience Payment, which is a central component of the Agreement, recognizes the systemic harms that were inherent in the education policy of operating residential schools.
In a letter to the minister in August 2006, the United Church's then Moderator, the Right Reverend Peter Short, wrote:
|| It is our concern that the Agreement, which attempts to address the harm done to former students, will seem hollow and disingenuous if a national apology does not accompany its implementation. Indeed, we are aware that from the standpoint of those most affected, those with whom we are attempting to set things right, an apology is central to the true spirit of reconciliation.
The United Church went on to say:
|| We believe that a national apology, partnered with the Settlement Agreement, will be a historic step toward closing this tragic chapter of our past and fostering a new and positive spirit in which to work together with all Aboriginal peoples towards a more just and promising future.
In the last year or so I have crossed the country meeting and talking with people and looking at the issue of poverty. Overwhelmingly, most everywhere I went, the face of poverty was aboriginal, a situation that should not exist in a country as wealthy as ours. With our resources and intelligence, it is a situation that should not be allowed to exist.
I also discovered, as I crossed the country and looked at the terrible reality of poverty in so many of our communities, and the aboriginal face of poverty, was people were yearning, calling and hoping for a vision. They told me that they wanted the government to put forward a vision, a vision of our country consistent with our history and our efforts to combat the geography in which we live, the weather with which we deal and the distances that often come between communities, a vision that talks about sharing, caring and about community.
I suggest today that we will not get to that vision of a caring, compassionate and wonderful country rooted in community until we right the relationship with our first nations people. In my view the beginning of righting that relationship is an apology, which must come from the House and from the government.
Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Churchill.
First, I congratulate the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River for bringing forward this very important motion to the House.
I also congratulate the Liberal leadership. As members know, it is an opposition day. We could have chosen any of many topics, but to pick a topic that deals with some of the most injured and downtrodden in our society is very admirable. It is quite a contrast to what we heard yesterday from a Conservative member who suggested that we should not pay for the disadvantaged to fight for their rights under the court challenges program.
The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. I am sure there were some people who thought the residential schools would help Indian and Inuit people get an education and learn English, the language of the world, so they could get on and prosper. However, this is a case where the end does not justify the means. The horrific ends, the harm and injury that resulted for those people was not proper.
I am sure everyone loves their children. I know the Minister of Indian Affairs and the parliamentary secretary have children. I know many members of the House of Commons have children. I ask everyone, including the thousands of people who are watching on T.V., to think of their children for a moment. I ask them to think about what they might be doing and how important it is having them at home. I ask them to think about their relations with them later in the day, their interactions and the fun. Then to think about hearing a knock at the door by someone who has come to take the children a long distance away, for a long time.
Some people complain if their children's school is a kilometre away. What if the school was 100 miles away and they did not see them for most of their formative years?
While the children were there, they were not allowed to speak English or French, their language was taken away. When they finally came back home, they were speaking a different language. What type of parenting skills would be needed? How would they even deal with them? People who have been involved with children who speak a different language know how difficult it is to try to parent them even if they have not had all those years of parenting skills. What kind of parenting skills are those children going to have, having never seen parents, having spent their formative years in an institution? When they go to raise their kids, what type of horror shows will we see because of the legacy that was brought on not by some strange institution but by their government, the Government of Canada?
I ask everyone to think again of their children, who they love so much. What if they came back home with a terrible disease like tuberculosis, which so many of those children had? What if they came back and they had been abused? Would this not be the gravest of injuries, resulting from the actions of a government that should have been there to help? In the worst of all conditions, think of those children who did not come back at all, the many who died of tuberculosis and other diseases in the residential schools.
Are we talking about a few people, such as those who live on a particular street or in a particular neighbourhood? No. We are talking about an estimated 80,000 Canadians, who are alive today, from every province and territory except Newfoundland, New Brunswick and PEI. Let us think about all the residential schools. Are we talking about three or four residential schools? No. We are talking about 130 schools.
This is a monumental personal injury to our first nations people.
Canadians do great work overseas and we should invest even more in that work, but it is inconceivable to me how a Parliament that thinks that is so important could ignore such a great wound at home to the first peoples of this great nation and not deal with it, as they have requested.
I want to speak for just a moment about agreements with the Crown. I am not sure the new government has this understanding. When the Crown of Canada makes an agreement, it is not an agreement with an individual party, a different political party or the government of the day, it is an agreement with Canada and Canada should honour those agreements long into the future.
The Kelowna accord, for example, was an agreement with the aboriginal leaders of this country, the premiers, the government of the day and with the honour of Canada. In the future one does not break such an honour. That is the same as the apology that Canada promised as part of the agreement on the residential schools settlement.
Some people might think money is the only important thing and an apology is insignificant. I have seen the experiences of many aboriginal people in my riding and I speak for the whole north. Having been the critic for Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, there are many aboriginal people, Inuit, Métis and first nations, that were involved in the residential schools. Many of them have come into my office and expressed how important this is.
I want to pay tribute to a great Canadian, the Hon. Jane Stewart, the former Liberal minister of Indian affairs. She made a statement of reconciliation in 1998. I experienced the tears and how important that was to the aboriginal people of this country. It was not taken lightly. It was a major stepping stone. However, it was not made by the Prime Minister.
To express how important it was, years later I was at an event that the former minister attended. She was no longer in government but had attended this social event with aboriginal people. She received a standing ovation because she meant so much to them years later. How often does a former minister of Indian affairs get a standing ovation years later?
I want to speak briefly about the healing foundation. In the settlement that the Liberal government negotiated, there was more money for the healing foundation because the settlement did not heal everything. That will come into effect in November or December maybe, but I implore the government to ensure there is transitional funding from now until then to ensure some of the great healing organizations can carry on.
I have seen many of these people in my office, as I said, and I spoke with a lawyer on the weekend who deals with these cases. He said that any member of Parliament who is considering voting against this apology should hear the stories of the pain and suffering of the many people who have been in his office.
An agreement was reached. As everyone knows, the Liberal government reached an agreement on November 21, 2005. It was not a government-driven agreement. It was based on the request from the Assembly of First Nations, which is why I think it was so successful. It had many of its items in it. It included, of course, the apology in a letter from the deputy prime minister.
I attended a great celebration that was held and once again I could see the tears of the people in that room because a great step had been taken for the first peoples of Canada in reconciliation. When one talks about great chiefs in the history of North America, National Chief Phil Fontaine is at the top of the list. I saw such a man in tears. I have to congratulate the member for LaSalle—Émard and those in government at that time who contributed to that great agreement. Now, Chief Fontaine is asking for an apology. I do not think it is too much to ask of Parliament.
Ms. Tina Keeper (Churchill, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River for putting forward this motion today because it is indeed for me a special honour to speak to the motion today.
I represent a riding in which thousands of survivors have lived and thousands of survivors have passed on. Indeed, as a first nations individual myself and a daughter of survivors, I feel a deep privilege today to speak to this motion.
I think it is a great opportunity first and foremost to pay tribute to the legacy of strength, resilience and I would say spiritual tenacity of survivors who have made this day possible. They did so by allowing us not to forget their experience and allowing us to ensure that we in the House of Commons as parliamentarians, as representatives of our ridings, both for the aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in our ridings and indeed for all Canadians and I believe for the world, do not forget this tragic and devastating chapter in the history of our country.
I say so with an absolute conviction because it is the strength and the courage of survivors I believe that has made the whole residential school compensation package a reality and it is their courage and conviction which has made it an issue, indeed, that we are talking about today in the House in terms of an apology coming from the House.
I think that the issue of an apology, where the government of the day should take the lead and take the cue from parliamentarians, is mandatory as part of the healing and reconciliation process. That needs to occur in this country for us to be able to stand in truth of the commitment we have to human rights in this country, as Canadians and, as we often claim, as leaders and champions of human rights in the world.
I would like to especially acknowledge certain individuals because I am very proud to say that the current National Chief, Phil Fontaine, who has been absolutely central to this process is from my riding. He has been active on this issue for almost 20 years now and in 1990 he came forward as a survivor and shared with Manitobans initially and shared with the country his experience. I believe that it was the courage of our National Chief, Phil Fontaine, that has been instrumental in helping this issue move along at the political level.
I would also like to acknowledge elders from my riding, Elmer Courchesne and Kenneth Young, who have also been key supporters of the first nations effort to ensure that this issue is made a political issue and that the compensation package remains a priority.
I would like to acknowledge the role that first nations people from all over the country have played in terms of making the compensation package a reality. The current government likes to take credit for the compensation package as it is. I applaud the Conservatives for moving forward on the residential schools compensation package in a non-partisan way. That was the right thing to do. It was certainly what we needed to do as a country.
The residential schools compensation package occurred because of the commitment by first nations individuals. My colleague has shared with us what an extremely painful experience it has been for first nations, Métis and Inuit individuals, and not only those who survived the devastation of having to leave their communities and families. They were only children. They were in an institution that was foreign to them. Often they were the victims of an effort to eradicate their culture, and they were also victims of horrendous types of abuse. Sadly, that experience was not uncommon.
The dispute resolution process began with the previous Liberal government. It became apparent to the government and was made very clear by first nations, Métis and Inuit people that it was not a reconciliatory process. It was not a process which would allow the victims and the country to move forward in terms of truth and reconciliation. It is an understatement to say that the individual claims were moving at a snail's pace. Out of the thousands of claims that were filed, literally less than a hundred were settled over several years.
It is because of the injustice of the process that the previous Liberal government engaged with the Assembly of First Nations to ensure that a just and fair process would be put in place and to ensure there would be fair compensation. It was because of this cooperative nature that in May 2005 the previous deputy prime minister, the hon. Anne McLellan, communicated to national chief Phil Fontaine that a political agreement would be struck for a new residential schools compensation package. The agreement would include the common experience payment, an alternative payment program and the truth and reconciliation process that we have heard about today.
Also, the former Liberal government had within that commitment, a commitment for an apology. I commend the House and I commend the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River--
Mr. Harold Albrecht (Kitchener—Conestoga, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the motion of the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Peace River.
Under the watch of Canada's new government, the Indian residential schools settlement agreement received its final court approval on March 21. This historic agreement will foster reconciliation between aboriginal people who resided at these schools, their families and communities, and all Canadians.
It was the current Minister of Indian Affairs who challenged the former Liberal government to take real action on achieving resolution to this sad chapter in Canadian history. It is that minister who has shepherded the agreement to where it is now.
I believe that it is most important at this time to take all the steps necessary to ensure that the agreement is implemented as soon as possible so that former students and their families who decide to remain in their settlement may benefit from it. That is why we are working hard toward the implementation of the settlement agreement, which includes elements such as the truth and reconciliation commission, a common experience payment, and funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
While I agree that this specific initiative requires immediate and sustained attention, I also believe it is essential to look beyond this one issue to the wider array of challenges that face all aboriginal people and communities in Canada. I can point with pride to the significant progress that Canada's new government has made in working in partnership with aboriginal groups and it is making progress in these areas to address a number of challenges.
For instance, let me discuss Bill C-44, an act to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The bill was introduced in the House on December 13 last year and is currently being considered by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, of which I am very honoured to be a member. Bill C-44 would end an exemption included in the original legislation when it was put into force 30 years ago, a measure designed to be temporary. Here we are 30 years later and this temporary measure remains in place. This needs to change.
In order to investigate and adjudicate alleged acts of discrimination, the Canadian Human Rights Act established two bodies: the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Over the past three decades the Canadian Human Rights Act has served to strengthen democracy in this country. Unfortunately, not all Canadians enjoy access to the legal instruments provided by the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act states:
|| Nothing in this Act affects any provision of the Indian Act or any provision made under or pursuant to that Act.
This simple sentence effectively denies some Canadians access to the remedies granted in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Section 67 shields the Indian Act and any decisions made or actions taken under the Indian Act from the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Under section 67, potentially discriminatory decisions made by agencies mandated by the Indian Act, such as band councils, school boards, as well as the federal government itself are exempted from the Canadian Human Rights Act. These decisions often touch on crucial aspects of day to day life, such as education, housing, registration, and the use and occupation of reserve lands. In effect, section 67 puts into question our claim to be a fair and egalitarian society.
As a consequence of this exemption, individuals, mostly residents of first nation communities, have had limited recourse under the Canadian Human Rights Act should they feel that their rights have been violated. This fundamental injustice is a blemish on Canada's democracy. Section 67 clearly permits discrimination against particular groups of citizens.
The exemption creates an odd irony of sorts. Legislation designed to promote equality effectively sanctions discrimination. Under section 67, thousands of Canadians cannot fully avail themselves of the legal instruments that combat discrimination. What is particularly unsettling is that section 67 affects many of Canada's most vulnerable citizens, the residents of first nation communities.
Support for the repeal of section 67 comes from a wide variety of groups, including the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, which called for the repeal of section 67 in its 2005 report on matrimonial real property on reserves, “Walking Arm-In-Arm to Resolve the Issue of On-Reserve Matrimonial Real Property”.
Support for the committee's position on the matter at that time was based largely on the testimony of representatives of several key groups, including the Native Women's Association of Canada. Over the years, calls for the repeal of section 67 have come from several other groups, including the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
It is a simple issue of human rights. Canada must not perpetuate the discrimination inherent in section 67, and nothing will change unless action is taken. The time has come to ensure that all Canadians are treated equally before the law. Bill C-44 proposes a fair, realistic approach to ending nearly three decades of sanctioned discrimination. We must seize the opportunity before us and ensure access to full human rights, ensuring that those rights are provided to all.
Now is the time to act and to end the injustice that was created as a so-called temporary measure 30 years ago. The repeal of section 67 is just one of many examples of Canada's new government's commitment to resolving the challenges that face aboriginal people in Canada and to improving the quality of life in aboriginal communities.
The member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River has touched on a subject of equal importance today: the fair and expedient implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. It is through this agreement that the healing and reconciliation needed will in fact be fostered.
As I stand in support of the member's motion, I urge his party to stand up for the rights of all aboriginal Canadians and support human rights on reserve. I urge the party opposite to support Bill C-44. Aboriginal Canadians are counting on us to do the right thing. They have waited for far too long to have this injustice corrected. It is time to act.
We have a choice. We can delay and study and then further delay, but 30 years have passed. Recently the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples appeared before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and stated its absolute and unequivocal support for the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It went on to say:
|| The fact that the Indian Act has substantially escaped human rights scrutiny for three decades is unacceptable in a country that is otherwise held up throughout the world as an example of successful and prosperous democracy.
Therefore, while I agree with the motion before us today, we cannot afford to hide behind more words. Now is the time for meaningful action, and our minister has shown over and over that we are getting things done for aboriginal Canadians.
Mr. Chris Warkentin (Peace River, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of today's motion from the Liberal member.
Canada's new government has always been and will continue to be committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the Indian residential schools. We are determined to move forward in this partnership with aboriginal communities nationwide toward a better quality of life and a brighter future.
One vitally important means of making this progress is through greater economic development opportunities in aboriginal communities. This government has always said that there is no single catch-all approach to addressing the issues in aboriginal communities, and the question of economic development is no different. Each community must follow its own path toward improved economic and social well-being, collaborating with those partners who can help it reach its goals.
In order to better assist communities in searching for and securing their own economic future, this government has brought together the expertise of Aboriginal Business Canada, or ABC as it is commonly referred to, and the economic development programming function of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, to form a new unit. This will improve the coordination of programs across the country to better support aboriginal business development.
The match is appropriate. ABC and INAC programs have already complemented one another. Aboriginal Business Canada provides the financial and other supports to individuals at community based firms, as well as to aboriginal business development and financial organizations, while INAC programs work more broadly with the community at the community level by funding the business plans and feasibility studies needed to launch successful projects.
This amalgamation of functions is a timely one. Aboriginal entrepreneurs operate a growing number of businesses in a full range of economic sectors. They are more willing and better able than ever before to initiate new partnerships on these projects and in these programs.
We currently find ourselves at an historic crossroad. A booming economy and a youthful aboriginal population are presenting unprecedented economic opportunities for aboriginal people. It is incumbent upon this federal government and the provincial governments, as well as aboriginal business people and organizations, to ensure that aboriginal communities are able to make the most of these opportunities.
A generation of baby boomers is beginning to enter its retirement years and Canada faces a potentially lengthy period of labour shortages, particularly in the skilled trades. This shortage, combined with the close proximity of many aboriginal communities to major resource development projects, provides the preconditions for robust economic development in these communities and among these individuals.
We firmly believe that these conditions must be fostered and supported by real resources. That is why budget 2007, introduced in the House on March 19, committed $105 million over five years to the aboriginal skills and employment partnerships. This includes $35 million in the first two years. As a result of this investment, an additional 9,000 aboriginal individuals will receive skills training and an additional 6,500 will secure sustainable skilled jobs.
We know that with the guidance of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board we will be able to make important innovations and improvements in aboriginal economic development in the years ahead. In fact, just last Friday, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development named Chief Clarence Louie chairman of this board. There is no aboriginal leader in Canada today who is better known for his commitment to aboriginal economic development.
The national board will be re-energized as a result of the appointment of this exceptionally qualified chair and the other outstanding five new members of this board. This government is anxious to work with them to pursue economic measures that will benefit all aboriginal people in Canada.
As we also know, progress can be made. Indeed, we are already seeing it happen. In the Northwest Territories, the Aboriginal Pipeline Group owns a significant share of the Mackenzie gas project, the largest development ever proposed in the north. From the Nisga'a in the west to the Membertou in the east, communities are ensuring a prosperous future by taking advantage of economic development opportunities. This surge benefits all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.
Recent examples of the federal government's support for economic development in aboriginal communities are numerous. From making investments that strengthen the tourism industry in Yukon to forging aboriginal employment agreements with leading private sector firms such as Siemens, Capital Health, the city of Edmonton, the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union and the Trucking Human Resource Sector Council, we have worked with our provincial, territorial, aboriginal and other business partners to fulfil our pledge to bolster entrepreneurship and economic growth in aboriginal communities.
Robust economic opportunities help to provide a solid foundation on which thriving communities are built. They are the basis for business development, the impetus for skills and job training initiatives, and the way forward toward a self-reliant, meaningfully employed population. Aboriginal people in this country are ready, willing and more than able to grasp these opportunities. I am proud of the government's progress thus far, working in partnership with these people to access these jobs.
We are happy that the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement has happened. It received final court approval on March 21, 2007. It will bring a resolution to this unfortunate chapter in history, but we also know and acknowledge the necessity for looking to the future and working with aboriginal people to build strong and flourishing communities.
Economic development is a key means of accomplishing this. AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine recently pointed out that the first nations population is “a huge untapped resource”. This government agrees. That is why we are pleased with our budget 2007 investment of $105 million over five years, which will more than double the size of the aboriginal skills and employment partnership initiative.
As everyone in the House can see, Canada's new government and its partners are making progress along this road in working together to create the conditions for economic success. That is why we are looking forward to even more achievements.
I would encourage the members opposite to support these initiatives, much like they supported the budget in which our government announced $2.2 billion for addressing the legacy of residential schools.
Hon. Raymond Simard (Saint Boniface, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kenora.
I would like to take a second and recognize our critic on this file, our colleague from Winnipeg South Centre, and our colleagues from Churchill and Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River who have also been doing a phenomenal job on a very important file.
I am pleased to speak to this motion regarding the residential schools situation in Canada. It is obviously a very important issue in Manitoba. I believe Manitoba is probably one of the provinces that was the most negatively affected of all the provinces in this country.
It is important to understand the history of residential schools and why Canada's new government should apologize.
The Canadian government played a prominent role in the development and administration of residential schools since 1874 by funding them under the Indian Act. Many churches had a significant role in operating these establishments. These churches are today taking their responsibility and have apologized for their role and they have all chastized the government for not doing the same.
In 1920, Canada amended the Indian Act by making it mandatory for children between the ages of 7 and 15 to attend residential schools, mostly for 10 months at a time. The conditions were often quite appalling and the government had a direct responsibility to improve these conditions. However, it did not make any improvements in 1909, despite Dr. Peter Bryce's report of a high number of children's deaths.
In fact, Bryce, the general medical superintendent for Indian and Northern Affairs at the time, whose reports did not even get published until 1922, stated that between 1894 and 1908, 35% to 60% of students had died in residential schools in western Canada alone. That is quite an appalling figure.These deaths were mostly due to poor living conditions, physical abuse and psychological abuse that led to suicide and other repercussions.
In the nineties, many survivors' testimonies began to surface and we heard unimaginable horror stories that contributed to the loss of aboriginal culture.
I will briefly tell the House of one survivor's experience but to please keep in mind that I have chosen the least disturbing and traumatic experience to share today. It is the story of Flora Merrick who attended the Portage la Prairie residential school in Manitoba where she stayed for 11 years. She states:
|| We were treated worse than animals and lived in constant fear...I cannot forget one painful memory. It occurred in 1932 when I was 15 years old. My father came to the Portage la Prairie residential school to tell my sister and I that our mother had died and to take us to the funeral. The principal of the school would not let us go with our father to the funeral.
|| My little sister and I cried so much, we were taken away and locked in a dark room for about two weeks...I became a totally humiliated, confused, subjugated person.
The effects of these experiences on the victims as well as on their descendants are incredible, a vicious cycle that constitutes the legacy of residential schools. This legacy is comprised of multi-generational trauma which occurs when the effects of trauma are not resolved in one generation, thus perpetuating abuse. They are also referred to as intergenerational impacts that are passed along through generations.
If the survivors are seeking a formal apology, and if they need it for their healing process, why not provide it? The compensation alone, as it will be mentioned time and time again, will not heal all of these negative effects and besides, it is a matter of principle and honour that the government may know nothing about.
We hear much about the physical and sexual abuse endured by the survivors of residential schools but what about the neglect and the unsanitary living conditions that created the spread of diseases, such as TB, and resulted in thousands of deaths, unreported deaths and unmarked graves? Many have disappeared, and that is unacceptable. Many are living with painful memories and both emotional and physical scars that have negatively impacted their lives, and that is unacceptable. Many survivors live with the shame and guilt that is not theirs, and that is unacceptable.
I am convinced that monetary compensation will not appease the pain and anger but an apology from the government could go a long way toward providing some closure to this sad period in our history. The Conservative government should issue an official apology and fulfill the commitment made by our previous government to reconcile with aboriginal peoples and admit the errors of past governments.
The previous Liberal government did not ignore all of the aforementioned issues. In 2005, we signed an accord with the Assembly of First Nations that recognized the need for reconciliation and healing. We went further, six months later, to reach a settlement intended to compensate the victims, which the Prime Minister has decided to implement, with a slight change, that of not apologizing.
We believe that the government's refusal to apologize demonstrates, yet again, the disrespect and betrayal of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples; an unjust and dangerous Conservative trend that began with the cancellation of the Kelowna accord.
As we remember, all provinces and territories had agreed to the Kelowna agreement, which was clearly outlined and defined by the Liberals, with the help of the aboriginal communities, but that the Conservatives failed to implement. The Kelowna accord would have narrowed the gaps between aboriginals and the rest of Canadians with respect to health care issues, education, housing and drinking water issues, and providing economic opportunities.
Now the Conservative government is refusing to apologize. This lack of courtesy, this inaction and stubbornness seems to be, in my opinion, the ultimate proof of the government's lack of consideration for the aboriginal peoples.
Although the Minister of Indian Affairs claims that the agreement negotiated by the previous government did not call for an apology, he should recognize that, in principle, the Liberal government did agree to it. However, this should be irrelevant. The Conservatives should take all the facts into account and just do what is right. Surely they must realize how important it is to formally apologize to the aboriginal peoples on behalf of all Canadians. They must show respect and compassion. The Prime Minister's stubbornness needs to stop.
The contradiction is quite remarkable. The Conservatives are willing to agree and pay out the Liberal compensation initiative but they are not willing to agree to an official apology.
As we all know, compensation is money given for suffering or loss. The Liberal government negotiated a compensation package as a part of its Canadian aboriginal action plan and offered the statement of reconciliation acknowledging the Canadian government's role and offering an apology to those who suffered in residential schools.
The next step is an official apology for the systematic wrongs and the permanent, long term damage done to our aboriginal peoples. The Canadian government is one of the culprits. We have claimed responsibility for a damaging policy and now it is time to take the next step and apologize. How can we say that we did it without saying that we are deeply sorry for what we have done?
The current Minister of Indian Affairs has also been reported as saying:
||...the underlying objective had been to try and provide an education to aboriginal children and I think the circumstances are completely different from Maher Arar or also from the Chinese head tax.
I would like to point out to the minister that removing children by force from their homes and families does not seem to be nurturing or educational. The schools should have been closer to home. The children should have gone home more often. Siblings should have attended the same institution. The children should have been able to speak their mother tongue outside of class and, at the very least, express their culture without fear.
Those are but a few examples of what should have been the case.
It also seems a bit odd to have had those children do more labour than school work. In fact, they engaged in the schoolroom for only half a day. The children were responsible for the complete maintenance, cooking, cleaning, laundry, groundskeeping and farming, of the school for the remainder of their day. This is especially true of the 1950s, a time when residential schools were even more underfunded and relied on the forced labour of the pupils they were supposed to educate. Those chores could have been learned at home.
What about pride, social skills and the sense of belonging? Were those part of the curriculum as well?
The Conservatives need to stop lying to themselves and recognize that the underlying objective of residential schools was to assimilate and not to educate and, for that alone, they should apologize.
According to the 1857 Gradual Civilization Act, which implemented the system, the schools' purpose was to “take the Indian out of the Queen's Red Children”. In my opinion, that stated mission had serious flaws and racist undertones. If that is not worth apologizing for, I do not know what is.
As to the minister's inability to comprehend comparisons between this issue and that of Maher Arar or of the Chinese head tax, he should only know that in all these cases the state recognized its role in these tragedies and acted responsibly to mend the situation and reconcile with the victims.
If that is still too difficult for him and his team to grasp, they should just take our word for it and apologize or, better yet, they should listen to the aboriginal citizens they represent. These people are asking their Prime Minister to apologize.
The national first nations leader, Phil Fontaine, is also demanding an official apology to the survivors of Indian residential schools.
I would suggest that our Conservative colleagues across the way rethink their position. Well, actually the Prime Minister does all their thinking for them so I would ask the Prime Minister to review the abuse and the improper treatment imposed on our aboriginal peoples and offer a formal apology.
I certainly assume that the House will take its responsibility this evening and apologize, and the Prime Minister, in a minority situation, should take his lead from a Parliament created by Canadians.
Mr. Roger Valley (Kenora, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to this motion.
I would first like to take a moment to thank the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River for the initiative and his relentlessness in demanding that the Conservative government fulfill the commitment to apologize to the survivors of the residential schools.
In November 2005, the Liberal government reached a historic agreement intended to begin the healing process for the survivors. This agreement was comprehensive. Compensation for survivors, the creation of a truth and reconciliation process, and funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation were the pillars of this agreement, but most importantly for the survivors, whom I have had a chance to meet, was the inclusion of an apology.
Someone in this cold heartless government needs to sit and hold hands with the elders as they recount their painful stories. They believe that we can start over. They want to start the healing and they want to move on. They deserve what was promised, a simple human apology from the government, acknowledging their pain and suffering, but the Conservative government has backed away from this important part of the agreement. It has refused to apologize.
I would like to share with members of this House the experience I have had conveyed to me by my constituents. I have had the opportunity to sit down with many of the survivors who have relayed to me their stories of being taken away from their families, from their communities, from their culture, and from the only way of life that they knew, to be brought to these residential schools without fully understanding what was taking place. In some cases, children would have been taken from some of the remote reserves, never having been exposed to too much beyond their own communities, and this only added to their trauma.
In the Kenora riding, there are a number of large communities that are in the northern, fly-in area of my riding, and I will mention some of these now to explain later. There is Sandy Lake with Chief Pardemus Anishnabie, Bearskin Lake with Chief Rodney McKay, Big Trout Lake with Chief Donnie Morris, and Pikangikum with Chief Charlie Pascal. Many of these people know the pain first-hand.
Most of the reserves in the riding would have been a distance from town in the southern part. The remote reserves are accessible only by air, so though it may have been possible for parents in the south to visit the school and visit the children, if the schools would allow it, it was almost impossible for the parents of the remote reserves to visit, only adding to the anxiety of the situation.
It is difficult for me to imagine my children living apart from me, much less forcibly removed from my community or my home. Not having a say in their education or their well-being, and not being able to visit them would be extremely painful. If we can recognize that a policy such as this would be wrong today, why is it impossible for the government to acknowledge that it was wrong in the past?
The government would have us believe that an apology is not necessary because the children would have benefited from the education that these institutions provided. This is only another example of the pattern of blatant disregard and misunderstanding that the government has toward aboriginal people.
The first example of this pattern came when the government cancelled the historic Kelowna accord. This accord gave hope to aboriginal Canadians that they were going to be a part of Canadian society and that the gap between first nations and non-first nations Canadians could some day be narrowed. First nations people were hopeful for their children's futures, very different from the experiences that they had to endure themselves.
Residential schools survivors were placed in institutions of sickness. The government would rarely provide enough resources, so that every child would be provided with the basic necessities and hunger was common. So not only were these children taken from their families, they were placed in unhealthy, overcrowded institutions.
How could the government not acknowledge that these well documented conditions existed? By not apologizing, it is doing just that. It is saying to the survivors that their experiences did not matter, and this is shameful.
I would say to the government that the residential schools were more than boarding schools. They were a place where the government carried out its policy of assimilation and the destruction of the aboriginal culture, a culture that existed and persisted long before the Europeans arrived on this continent, and with a relatively short timeframe, the Government of Canada sought to destroy it.
I have always found it ironic how the Government of Canada thought it was necessary to educate aboriginal Canadians, considering the vast knowledge that aboriginal Canadians had to offer us. Take the environment as an example. Sustainability is a word that we have been hearing a lot of in the recent years. The environmental degradation of our planet has reached an alarming level, but sustainability is a concept that is a foundation of aboriginal culture. The need to respect the land is paramount. Non-native cultures are only waking up to this concept at a time when it is almost too late for us.
We may have been in a different situation had we only listened to the knowledge that was being offered to us by the first nation aboriginal communities, but the government is incapable of listening to them, and that is the problem. If it would only listen to the survivors, it could not deny that an apology is necessary to start the healing process.
The government has decided to perpetuate the cycle of mistrust and that has been devastating to these communities.
This is a black mark on Canadian history, one that has left a legacy of despair and suffering for aboriginal Canadians. We need a government that is willing to move forward. We need a government that understands that to acknowledge the mistakes of the past it must take the first step and apologize.
Consider some of the situations some of these communities had to endure. Whether it was 100 miles away by road from the school or a 1,000 miles away by air, families were separated. Parents did not know how their children would fare. Communications were almost non-existent back in the days when this started, and for many in the remote sites, communication is still difficult.
These families who were separated need an apology. Really, this is what started the era of mistrust between some of these communities, the ones in the south and the remote ones in the north, and mistrust of the outside world and other religions. They did not know, everything that happened to them would be a problem. Communities started to split apart, some for religious reasons.
Today, as I travel in northern Ontario I can still see those divides over some of the issues that were created by residential schools. Nibinamik, Neskantaga and North Spirit are communities that split off from the original six large communities in the north and generally split along religious lines by some of the difficulties that they were trying to work through.
There are many instances where not only families were separated, entire communities were separated from each other as they fought to strive and deal with some of the situations. These communities, when we think of it, had been together for centuries. For literally centuries they had managed to co-exist, work together and live together. The residential schools have driven them apart forever.
The mistrust of the outside communities and some of the religions is very apparent in my riding. We have communities that only follow one religion and basically have split off from other communities, simply because of the pain and suffering through residential schools. Really, they are ready to start over. They need and want a process that will allow them to put this behind them and allow them to start the healing process. What they need to start this off is an apology.
What about today's problems? When we consider what is going on in some of the communities and some of the challenges they have of distance, geography and language barriers, now they have the challenge of generations that grew up in the residential schools and the damage that was done to the family unit.
Those children were taken out of their homes or close-knit communities. Now they are back raising their own families. It is not just a situation of one group, one generation, it is more than that. We continue the problem every day as these former children of residential schools raise their own families. So many were damaged for life and the damage continues. We need to stop the damage. We need to start the healing process that we all talk about. We really need to have an apology from the government, so we could start moving the issue forward.
The children who came from residential schools were sent back to their own communities. They were further divided and it put more distance between them. Poplar Hill, North Caribou and Fort Hope were communities that split off because the children who came home to raise families in either community were damaged by the residential school issues. All of them, in every community, cannot understand the reason why the government cannot apologize.
There was an agreement put in place by the former Liberal government. We wanted to do the right thing. We wanted to make sure the process was followed, that the three pillars were followed. We wanted to ensure an apology was issued by the Prime Minister, so the residents knew that we were starting the process.
What do we have now? We have no apology. We have a process that is only partly completed and we have families, communities, elders, grandparents, and leaders of the community that see that the process will not be fully completed. They really want to hear that the Government of Canada is for them. They really want to know that the Prime Minister will apologize which will allow the process to start. We do not need any more problems. We need these families to make their futures brighter and their family lives stronger.
Now, when we actually finalize the Liberal solution to the dark days of residential schools, all we are asking for is one simple last thing for the Prime Minister to do, which is to apologize. Aboriginal Canadians were forced out of their homes, their communities. They were forced to go to a place they did not want to go to and forced to participate in something they did not want to do at the time. They are all asking the same question, what can we do now? We can apologize.
Mr. Marc Lemay (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, today I would like to begin with a story, but first I want to talk about what happened in the 1960s.
In 1960, I was living in Amos, where I am from. It is a small municipality that, at the time, was the regional centre for education. In Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Amos was where students went to learn the liberal professions. They were going to be lawyers, priests, notaries and so on.
Not far from Amos was the little town of Saint-Marc-de-Figuery. Around the 1950s—I am not sure of the exact date—the federal government decided to build what we called the Indian residential school there, on the edge of a lake.
We here are all young. We can remember when, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we played with the Indian children, and that was okay. Near Amos there was an Algonquin village called Pikogan. We wondered why the Indian children were taken to the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery instead of to Pikogan, close to Amos, which also had schools. We did not know. I did not know.
But not knowing is no excuse for not acknowledging today what happened at that little residential school. This is what happened there.
At the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery, the students were Indians. They were called that. They were even called redskins. They were taken from Obidjuan, an aboriginal village closer to Lac-Saint-Jean. At the time, the Grand Trunk railway connected Cochrane, Ontario, to Quebec City and Montreal. The railway passed through the Gouin reservoir, where the Algonquin people fished and hunted.
What happened in the 1950s and the 1960s? At the end of the summer, someone from the Department of Indian Affairs would travel by train, arrive in the villages, collect the Indian children and take them to the Indian residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery.
They even collected the Indian children from Pikogan, an Algonquin village five kilometres from Amos, and took them to the residential school so that all the Indians would be cared for and educated at the same place and in the same way.
What happened to the Indian children when they were taken to the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery? I can attest to that, because I saw it. We were young. At that time, in the 1960s, I was in scouts. We would go to the residential school to see the Indians and talk to them about scouts. When we arrived we saw that they were all Indian children. They all had black hair and it was short. The first thing that happened when they arrived at the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery was that their hair was cut off, under the pretext that they had lice.
Their heads were completely shaven and kept that way for the entire school year. These children were taken to the residential school in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery in August or September and they stayed there until the end of the school year. That was where they were educated.
Here is what used to be done. First their hair was cut. Then their traditional clothing was taken away—because the authorities at the time felt this needed to be done—and they were given white man's clothing. What else happened? They were prohibited from speaking Algonquin. I am talking about the residential school that I knew, the one in Saint-Marc-de-Figuery, near Amos. Their Indian clothing was taken away and they were formally prohibited from speaking Indian, as it was called at the time. They had to speak French. All the classes were in French. They were taken away at age five or six from the Obidjuan community or whichever community they were from along the railway line. There were Indians in Senneterre, Amos and all over. The Algonquin were taken to these residential schools to be educated. Their hair was cut, they were prohibited from speaking their language and, most of all, they were prohibited from thinking like Indians. From the age of five they had to think like white people because apparently we were intellectually superior and we, the whites, had to educate them.
I hope the picture I have just evoked here in this House—a picture that is true—will call to mind certain events that happened in Europe just a few decades ago. I would not go so far as to use the word “genocide”. I will not use that word, although I could not be blamed for thinking it. In fact, the Kistabish, the Mohawks, the McDougalls I now know have all lost their language and their culture. They were subjected to things that I will not describe here in this House, horrible things, such as rapping their knuckles because they ate with their fingers.
When they were in their communities for the entire summer with their parents and elders, they learned to hunt and fish. They learned how to gut a fish, how to trap a rabbit, hare, deer or moose, or how to feed wolves, because they learned from the wolves where to find the deer. Yet, they lost all of this as soon as they went to the residential school.
I am sure you can imagine what happened. The children were five, six, seven or eight years old, and we know this happened every year. What happened? Horrible things happened in that Indian residential school. Here in this House, I will not talk about the sexual assaults endured by the Kistabish, the Mohawks, and the McDougalls, and I could name others. They went through some tremendous difficulties, which they hid for the most part. They could not talk about it to their parents.
What did Jackie Kistabish say when she returned to Pikogan? She said everything was fine, that it was not so bad. Her mother and grandmother were surprised to see Jackie or my friend Kistabish come home with their hair cut up to their ears. That was not the aboriginal way. At that time, they typically had long hair, although the children lost their hair in September. Their hair was cut off or shaved. When they returned home in June, they did not even understand their parents and, worse, their parents did not understand them. That is the worst of everything that was done.
I am talking about children of five or six, but this went on for about 10 years, until they were 15 or 16. They lost their whole culture, say the Anishnabe Algonquins from Pikogan and Winneway and Lac-Simon and Obidjuan.
I could name them all, and I will tell you why. I grew up to become a criminal lawyer. It is strange, but my clients included the Kistabish, McDougalls, Mohawks and many others. They wound up in court, and no one could understand why they had become alcoholic and violent. They could not go back to their home communities, places like Pikogan, Obidjuan or Pointe-Bleue.
Some time ago, I asked a question of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I received the answer today. These are recent statistics. In 2001-02, 738 aboriginal people were admitted to penitentiary to serve sentences of more than two years; in 2002-03, there were 775; in 2003-04, 752; in 2004-05, 802; in 2005-06, 891. These individuals are generally in their thirties and are serving their first sentence. Why? Maybe because they were unable to live in their home communities. Imagine their parents. We are talking about the 1950s and 1960s. These people were deprived of their rights and their culture. They were no longer able to communicate with their own parents because they were forbidden from speaking their own language.
Since 1876, 150,000 aboriginals have experienced what I just described and suffered the hell that was residential schools. Today, there are just 87,000 survivors of these residential schools. Unfortunately, they are disappearing at an average of 30 to 50 a week. Today these people are 70 to 75 years old. Some, but very few, are slightly younger at ages 55 to 60. Most of them are between 65 and 85 and they remember.
I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of these seniors—because they are seniors now—and they congratulate this House for taking provisions to resolve the residential schools issue by financially compensating the communities, and more specifically the aboriginals who experienced this hell. However, I think we need to go further. I am making an appeal in this House today. I am asking that we stop thinking in terms of political parties. Indeed, I am from the Bloc and yes, there are Liberals, our friends the New Democrats and the Conservatives. However, in light of this terrible experience aboriginals had, I think we could pass the motion today.
The motion of the Liberal member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River asks that this House apologize to the survivors of Indian residential schools for the trauma they suffered as a result of policies intended to assimilate first nations, and so forth.
In my speech, I do not want to blame the government for its inaction nor blame the previous government, which may have done nothing for 13 years; that is not what we are debating. Today, the issue is that the first nations experienced horrible things on our soil. We must not only recognize that fact and compensate them for it, but I believe we should also apologize. We did not know. We did not think this was going on. We never believed that this could have gone so far.
Unfortunately this went as far as complete assimilation of a people and as far as offensive sexual assault against children between the ages of 5 and 10. One of them told me that at the Indian residential school he saw a young boy—whom I will not name, but whom I know personally—leave the brother superior's room bleeding from a place that decency prevents me from naming in this House. But we are old enough to understand that what he experienced was appalling. This went on night after night for days and months.
How do we think these people survived for all these years? For they are people, despite the fact that for many years, right into the 1950s, some believed that Indians were not people.
Enough is enough. The Bloc Québécois and I think that the House should say enough is enough.
Apologizing will not erase what happened, nor will it make these communities forget what they went through. Suicide rates are high. One man told me that his father committed suicide and that he did not understand why until his mother told him what his father had told her—until his mother told him that his father had gone to the Saint-Marc-de-Figuery Indian residential school.
This kind of thing happened all over Canada. We have to acknowledge it, and I believe the day will come when Canada will admit that it made a mistake. Canada must apologize for what it did to the first nations, and I think the time to do so is now.
I think that with all due respect, the first nations now have everything they need to take charge of their future and to grow. The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, of which I am a member, is studying bills, such as Bill C-44. It is not perfect, but are working to improve it.
We acknowledge the rights they have won. They had to fight the government for their rights.
I will end by saying that overall, the report submitted to the committee was based on recognizing aboriginal peoples as self-governing nations that occupy a special place in Canada. However, before we can truly acknowledge that, the House must apologize sincerely to residential school survivors for the trauma they experienced.