Premier Rachel Notley has apologized to indigenous Albertans for the government's past silence on residential schools.

"We want the First Nation, Métis and Inuit people of Alberta to know that we deeply regret the profound harm and damage that occurred to generations of children forced to attend residential schools," Notley told the legislature Monday.

"Although the province of Alberta did not establish this system, members of this chamber at the time did not take a stand against it. For this silence, we apologize."

As survivors of residential schools looked on, Notley told them that "in the journey of reconciliation, you no longer have to walk alone."

She vowed that the government will make a "fundamental shift" in its relationship with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.

Notley became emotional as she called for the establishment of a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

"We join the families, national aboriginal organizations, the province, the territories to lend our voice to the call for a national inquiry, because it is the right thing to do," Notley said.

"We must openly face the root causes that place aboriginal women and girls at the highest risk."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to call an inquiry. Federal Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch wrote that "we don't need another study on top of the same 40 studies that have already been done; we need police to catch those responsible and ensure they're punished."

Notley's call for an inquiry was criticized by Wildrose leader and former Conservative MP Brian Jean, who used his response in the legislature to praise Harper, his former boss, for formally apologizing for residential schools in 2008. 

Jean told Notley she could take action of her own if she wanted to improve the lives of aboriginal women, like giving the RCMP extra money for Project KARE, an initiative to solve the murders of missing Alberta women.

"Hopefully in the future we will see provincial action, rather than a speech calling for action from the federal government," Jean said. 

'It's time'

Notley made her statement before dozens of First Nations leaders and activists invited to the legislature. It comes three weeks after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tabled its final report. 

Chief Bernice Martial

Treaty 6 Grand Chief Bernice Martial said she was happy to hear the apology from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. (CBC)

Bernice Martial, chief of the Cold Lake First Nations and grand chief of Treaty 6, said she was happy to hear the apology from the premier. 

"I never thought it was going to happen," she said.

"It's time. It's time the [federal] government finally acknowledged it and apologized for what has happened."

In her speech, Notley called for a "fundamental shift" in how the Alberta government deals with indigenous people. Chief Randy Ermineskin of the Ermineskin Cree First Nation in Maskwacis said the premier's message was promising. 

"A lot of governments haven't quite listened to us the way they should," he said. "This new government is really proving something to others that we need to include everybody."

Notley said the Alberta government will join other provinces and the federal government to address violence against aboriginal women and girls and ways to prevent human trafficking. She also vowed Alberta would work with aboriginal communities on early intervention for children.