Montreal

Philippe Couillard agrees with term 'cultural genocide' to describe residential schools

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says he agrees with the use of the term "cultural genocide" to refer to Canada's residential school system.

Quebec premier says review of relationship with aboriginal people needed

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard responded on Wednesday to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says he agrees with the use of the term "cultural genocide" to refer to Canada's residential school system.

Unlike Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has so far been non-committal when asked about the term, Couillard didn't hesitate speaking with reporters Thursday in Quebec City.

"We have to recognize there was certainly an organized attempt, during one unfortunate period, to erase the identity, culture and even the language of First Nations communities in our country," Couillard said.

Couillard said the residential school system left behind "scars" that need to be acknowledged. 

The premier was responding to the release of a report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which looked into the legacy of residential schools in Canada.

The long-awaited summary report, released Tuesday, condemned more than 100 years of Canada's aboriginal policy, saying the "establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as 'cultural genocide.'" 

While Couillard didn't go into specifics, he said a review of the relationship with aboriginal people is needed.

He stressed the importance of aboriginal communities in helping to develop the province's economy.

Term doesn't go far enough, Grand Chief says

Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the James Bay Cree, said the term "cultural genocide" doesn't go far enough.

"They are acts of genocide," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"I thought they would recommend that it was an act of genocide, as defined under the 1948 genocide convention, because if it's an act, then it's criminal and I think this was a criminal offense."

Coon Come, who spent part of his childhood in a residential school, said the next step is to follow through on the recommendations laid out in the report. 

The TRC report included 96 recommendations to help Canada move towards reconciliation with its First Nations.

The recommendations apply not only to various levels of government, but to schools, societies, churches and aboriginal governments.

Harper has so far not committed to following through on the recommendations.

During question period this week, Harper reiterated his government's support for aboriginal people, referencing the recent budget's funding and investments for First Nations.

with files from La Presse Canadienne

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