The House met at 3 p.m.
The Speaker: I invite the hon. members to rise as our
distinguished guests enter the House and take their seats.
Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, after the ministers' statements, the representative leaders may provide a response. So this can be done in accordance with the rules, practices and traditions of this House, I would ask unanimous consent for the following motion:
That, notwithstanding any standing or special order or usual practices of the House, after statements by ministers today, the House resolve itself into committee of the whole to allow Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Patrick Brazeau, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Mary Simon, President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Clem Chartier, President of the Métis National Council, and Beverley Jacobs, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada to make a statement in response to the ministerial statement of apology to former students of Indian residential schools; that the Speaker be permitted to preside over committee of the whole; after these statements, the Chairman shall leave the chair and the House shall adjourn to the next sitting day.
Hon. Ralph Goodale: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the official opposition, I will say that we are honoured to consent.
Mr. Pierre Paquette: Mr. Speaker, naturally the Bloc Québécois gives its consent to this motion.
Ms. Libby Davies: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the NDP, I will say that we most certainly give our consent.
The Speaker: Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this way?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to)
The Speaker: Pursuant to order made on Tuesday, June 10, 2008, the House will now proceed to statements by ministers.
The right hon. Prime Minister.
* * *
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, before I begin officially, let me just take a moment to acknowledge the role of certain colleagues here in the House of Commons in today's events. Although the responsibility for the apology is ultimately mine alone, there are several of my colleagues who do deserve the credit.
First of all, for their hard work and professionalism, I want to thank both the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and his predecessor, now the Minister of Industry. Both of these gentlemen have been strong and passionate advocates not just of today's action, but also of the historic Indian residential schools settlement that our government has signed.
Second, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my former colleague from Cariboo—Chilcotin, Philip Mayfield, who for a very long time was a determined voice in our caucus for meaningful action on this sad episode of our history.
Last, but certainly not least, I do want to thank my colleague, the leader of the New Democratic Party. For the past year and a half, he has spoken to me with regularity and great conviction on the need for this apology. His advice, given across party lines and in confidence, has been persuasive and has been greatly appreciated.
I stand before you today to offer an apology to former students of Indian residential schools. The treatment of children in these schools is a sad chapter in our history.
For more than a century, Indian residential schools separated over 150,000 aboriginal children from their families and communities.
In the 1870s, the federal government, partly in order to meet its obligations to educate aboriginal children, began to play a role in the development and administration of these schools.
Two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture.
These objectives were based on the assumption that aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child”.
Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country. One hundred and thirty-two federally-supported schools were located in every province and territory, except Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Most schools were operated as joint ventures with Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United churches.
The Government of Canada built an educational system in which very young children were often forcibly removed from their homes and often taken far from their communities.
Many were inadequately fed, clothed and housed. All were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents, grandparents and communities.
First nations, Inuit and Métis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools.
Tragically, some of these children died while attending residential schools, and others never returned home.
The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language.
While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.
The legacy of Indian residential schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today.
It has taken extraordinary courage for the thousands of survivors who have come forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered. It is a testament to their resilience as individuals and to the strengths of their cultures.
Regrettably, many former students are not with us today and died never having received a full apology from the Government of Canada.
The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing and reconciliation. Therefore, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to aboriginal peoples for Canada's role in the Indian residential schools system.
To the approximately 80,000 living former students and all family members and communities, the Government of Canada now recognizes that it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes, and we apologize for having done this.
We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions, that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done this.
We now recognize that far too often these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled, and we apologize for failing to protect you.
Not only did you suffer these abuses as children, but as you became parents, you were powerless to protect your own children from suffering the same experience, and for this we are sorry.
The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly ours as a government, and as a country. There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever again prevail.
You have been working on recovering from this experience for a long time, and in a very real sense we are now joining you on this journey. The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.
We are sorry.
[Nimitataynan. Niminchinowesamin. Mamiattugut.]
In moving toward healing, reconciliation and resolution of the sad legacy of Indian residential schools, the implementation of the Indian residential schools settlement agreement began on September 19, 2007. Years of work by survivors, communities and aboriginal organizations culminated in an agreement that gives us a new beginning and an opportunity to move forward together in partnership.
A cornerstone of the settlement agreement is the Indian residential schools truth and reconciliation commission. This commission represents a unique opportunity to educate all Canadians on the Indian residential schools system. It will be a positive step in forging a new relationship between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward with a renewed understanding that strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us.
God bless all of you. God bless our land.