2008: The Prime Minister issues an apology for the abuses of Aboriginal Peoples in Canadian residential schools
On June 11th, 2008, Stephen Harper voiced an apology to the Aboriginal residential school survivors, on behalf of the Canadian Government. This was known as the “Statement of Apology.” Harper was upfront about everything the past Canadian Governments had done to Aboriginal people and their culture. Although the discrimination, abuse, violence, racism, and unfairness that took place in residential schools wasn’t the current Parties’ fault, Harper apologized as if it was. While the apology meant a lot to Aboriginal people, they are all still in the process of healing from the effects residential schools had on their families, culture, and way of life.
The residential school system had the purpose of breaking Aboriginal culture. There were 139 schools operated in Canada between 1831 and 1996. Students were taken from their homes and sent to residential schools as early as the age of 3. There, students were disciplined in a way that, presently, you could go to prison for. For example, students who spoke the Ojibwe, Cree, or Inuit language were beaten, and punished for practicing their culture in various forms. Examples of punishment included being “strapped” with a thick piece of leather, left in a freezing cold or steaming hot bath tub for a period of time, or simply being slapped across the face. Students may have even been disciplined for reasons such as coughing or sneezing too loud, or talking when they shouldn’t have. All of this was with the Canadian government’s goal of getting rid of Aboriginal people.
The last residential school was closed fairly recently, in 1996. And although it wasn’t the current Canadian Government that created these institutions, Aboriginal people are feeling the effects now more than ever. Many of the Aboriginal youth do not know how to speak their Ojibwe, Cree, or Inuit language. Survivors who have had children don’t know the language well enough to teach their children, which is the result of residential schools not allowing students to speak their own languages. Many Aboriginal youth today do not know much about their cultural practices and ceremonies, as the government once had them taken away from their parents and ancestors. In one or two more generations, Aboriginal cultures may be close to or completely wiped out. This is due to the Aboriginal youth today not knowing enough about their culture to pass it on to the next generations. The list of effects the residential schools had on Aboriginal culture is tremendous. It is something that the Aboriginal youth of today have to keep fighting for.
Stephen Harper said in the Statement of Apology: “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.” Harper, along with the rest of the Canadian Government now realizes what the residential schools did to the Aboriginal people. A lot of Aboriginals say it was too late to recognize this. It was only in 1996 that the last residential school was closed. We are now in 2015. Nineteen years is not that long when you are looking at an issue as big as this. The damaging effects on the culture are too big to fix. But Aboriginal people will continue to heal and fight to carry on our culture for generations to come.
The current generation of Aboriginal youth should be the main concern of today’s generation. Aboriginal youth know very little about these issues, but it is something that we need to take more seriously and teach them about. They are the leaders that in twenty years will make a difference in the world. Aboriginal people need to fight for their culture, and keep striving towards healing. The youth of today are the ones who need to continue to be educated in order for this to happen. There is a saying that goes: “The youth of today, are the leaders of tomorrow.” Particularly in this case, this could not be more true.