Nova Scotia

U of M president apologizes for residential schools

The president of the University of Manitoba has apologized for its role in perpetuating damage caused by Canada's native residential schools.

Residential school apology

11 years ago
Duration 1:55
University of Manitoba apologizes for its role in Canada's native residential schools system

The president of the University of Manitoba has apologized for its role in perpetuating damage caused by Canada's native residential schools.

David Barnard appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Thursday as it held its third round of national hearings in Halifax.

Barnard said that although the university was not directly involved in the schools, it played a role in educating clergy, teachers and politicians who perpetuated the system of assimilation.

"We're here because the University of Manitoba wishes to take a leadership role in helping expose the national shame of the Indian residential school system and the consequences of such a system," an emotional Barnard told the commission.

"We are sorry. We apologize to our aboriginal students and faculty. They are survivors."

1st apology from a university

It is the first time a university has apologized to residential school survivors and their families.

"When we examined the University of Manitoba's role in the residential school system, it's clear we did not live up to our goals, our ideals, our hard-earned reputation or our mandate," Barnard told the commission.

"Our institution failed to recognize or challenge the forced assimilation of aboriginal peoples and the subsequent loss of their language, culture and traditions. That was a grave mistake and it is our responsibility. We are sorry."

Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Murray Sinclair accepted the apology on behalf of the survivors, calling the apology an important gesture. At the University of Manitoba, about 100 people watched via computer live stream.

The commission started its hearings earlier this year. It has a five-year mandate to document the history of residential schools, inspire reconciliation and produce a report by 2014.

Survivors share memories

People who attended the Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia told their painful stories at the hearing.

"I saw and heard children sobbing in the night," Iris Nicholas told the commission. "I saw children hanging out of windows from the top floor to use the bathroom so they wouldn't wet their bed. I saw children line up to show the crotch of their underwear for viewing by the nun in charge."

Ruth Loft, a former student at the Shubenacadie Residential School, shared her memories. ((CBC))
Ruth Loft said students were not allowed to show their feelings.

"I buried my emotions for seven years to survive in that institution called the Shubenacadie Residential School," she said.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, of the Anglican Church of Canada, also apologized for what happened.

"I am deeply sorry for the pain we inflicted, and for the terrible memories so many of you still carry today," he said.

Between 1923 and 1967, many native children were taken from their families and sent to the Shubenacadie school, where some were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse.