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Primate urges government to apologize for residential schools

By Marites N. Sison, staff writer on March, 30 2007

 
Archbishop Andrew Hutchison. Photo: Vianney Carriere 


Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has expressed “strong disappointment and sadness” over the federal government’s refusal to offer an apology to former students of native residential schools and their families.

In a letter, Archbishop Hutchison strongly urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reconsider his government’s decision not to issue an apology saying that for many former students it was “at least as important” as the compensation provided in the revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The primate noted that in the church’s work in the Alternative Dispute Resolution process, “We have heard that for many survivors, the apology is at least as important as the financial compensation,” said Archbishop Hutchison. “People whose lives have been shattered through no fault of their own, are immensely helped by having their sufferings acknowledged and validated, and by hearing the words of apology.”

Archbishop Hutchison underscored the fact that the Anglican Church of Canada, through his predecessor, Archbishop Michael Peers, had already acknowledged that it had been “complicit” in the Canadian government’s past policy of assimilation and had offered an apology on behalf of the church “for the harm done by the residential school system.”

The Anglican church, functioning as an agent of the Government of Canada, operated 26 Indian residential schools. “We are ashamed of this part of our history,” said Archbishop Hutchison.

Archbishop Hutchison also emphasized that the Anglican church was not alone in requesting that the government issue an apology. He noted that British Columbia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Brenner had, in his ruling on the settlement agreement, urged the Prime Minister to issue “a full and unequivocal apology” on behalf of all Canadians in the House of Commons.

Opposition members of parliament have likewise joined calls to offer an apology, stating that generations of aboriginal people continue to suffer from the effects of the residential schools system.

Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice had told the House of Commons this week that the $1.9 billion settlement agreement does not include the issuance of an apology. The Globe and Mail noted that in 1998, then Indian affairs minister Jane Stewart had expressed the Canadian governments “profound regret” to aboriginal Canadians “for past actions of the federal government which have contributed to these difficult pages in the history of our relationship together.” She also expressed an apology but limited it to those who were physically and sexually abused. The chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations, however, demanded a fuller apology – “one in which Ottawa explicitly said it was sorry for the very creation of the residential schools.”

In 2005, then (Liberal) deputy prime minister Anne McLellan acknowledged that once an agreement was reached there would be “a need for an apology that will provide a broader recognition of the Indian residential schools legacy and its effect upon First Nation communities.”

All nine provincial and territorial courts approved the agreement March 8, which means that it may be implemented by fall. Former students of native residential schools have until Aug. 20 to declare if they want to opt out of the agreement. If 5,000 out of an estimated 80,000 former students decide not to participate in the agreement, it would be up to the federal government to decide to move ahead with the deal.

The accord provides former students a Common Experience Payment (CEP) of $10,000 for the first year of attendance in residential schools and $3,000 for each additional year.

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March, 30 2007

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