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Inside Story Americas

Revisiting a dark chapter in Canada's history

The country's Indian residential schools have long been a source of shame, but will a new report shed new light on them?
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2013 16:40

Canada's Indian residential schools have long been a source of national shame. Now, new research reveals that at least 3,000 children died while in the care of the church and government.

"There's a number of survivors that speak positively about their experience in the school. Most of them have come from second and third generations of families that have gone to residential schools. And bear in mind that sometimes the school was better than the home condition they grew up in because of the legacy of the schools in that community. But overwhelmingly the number of  testimonies that we've received they have not been positive experiences and they were fraught with abuse."

- Kimberly Murray, the executive director of Canada's TRC

In 2008, Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, apologised for his country's forced education programme for First Nations Canadian children, which operated for 150 years until the 1990s, saying: "I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools. The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history."

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up to examine the systematic mistreatment of students at residential schools. And this week a researcher affiliated to that commission revealed that of the roughly 150,000 children who attended the schools at least 3,000 can now be documented to have died while in their custody.

It is a finding that only adds to the already full record of abuse and neglect suffered by First Nations communities during the Canadian government's programme of forced assimilation.

So, will the report into Canada's residential school system serve as a wake-up call to end the ignorance surrounding this dark period in the country's history?

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas is joined by guests: Kimberly Murray, the executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Canada; Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada; and Frank Wallace, who represents the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and attended a residential school himself.

"During the time when they were operating, the government in Canada was aware of the hazards of and harms that these schools did to children. There were solutions available to remediate and yet they chose not to implement the solutions. What's surprising for me is that the real question about residential schools is the opportunity to learn from it and that's the work of the TRC to educate us all and how we understand it to make sure we are not doing the same thing again. But I'm worried that the government is in many ways doing the same thing again."

Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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