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'We are deeply sorry' for abuse in residential schools

In 1928, a government official predicted Canada would end its "Indian problem" within two generations. Church-run, government-funded residential schools for native children were supposed to prepare them for life in white society. But the aims of assimilation meant devastation for those who were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Decades later, aboriginal people began to share their stories and demand acknowledgement of — and compensation for — their stolen childhoods.

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It's a day the leaders of the Indian Brook band in Nova Scotia have been waiting for. A group gathers at the local school to watch as Jane Stewart, Canada's minister of Indian Affairs, makes a formal apology to those who suffered in residential schools. They're also anxious for concrete solutions to some of the problems on their reserve. When Stewart announces infrastructure plans and support for native language learning, they're not disappointed.

But as CBC reporter Kas Roussy learns, another group isn't satisfied by the apology. On the site of the now-gone Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, former students remember the mistreatment they endured and vow to pursue a lawsuit against the government.
•  The government apology was contained in a Statement of Reconciliation and part of a document formally known as Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan. It also consisted of money for healing, litigation and an alternate dispute resolution process and called for a joint action plan for future relations between natives and non-natives.

• Part of the government's apology reads: "Particularly to those individuals who experienced the tragedy of sexual and physical abuse at residential schools, and who have carried this burden believing that in some way they must be responsible, we wish to emphasize that what you experienced was not your fault and should never have happened. To those of you who suffered this tragedy at residential schools, we are deeply sorry."

• This was the first government apology, but the churches had apologized for residential school abuse at different times over a number of years. In 1997, delegates to a United Church general meeting voted to use the word "repentance" rather than "apology" in wording a statement to the native people who attended its residential schools. They were concerned that an apology would mean accepting responsibility for monetary claims by survivors -- a responsibility they felt should be solely the government's.

• The residential school at Shubenacadie was operated from 1930 to 1966 by the Catholic church and was the only one in Nova Scotia. The majority of its students were from the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet nations and came from all over the Maritimes.
• The first claim against the federal government and the churches for abuse in residential schools was filed in 1990. By 1996, 200 such claims had been received. In 2003, there were about 12,000.
Medium: Television
Program: 1st Edition
Broadcast Date: Jan. 7, 1998
Guest(s): Nora Bernard, Jean Knockwood, Reg Moloney
Reporter: Kas Roussy
Duration: 5:14

Last updated: November 4, 2014

Page consulted on November 4, 2014

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