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Canada apologizes for residential school system


David Wiwchar, Windspeaker Contributor, PORT ALBERNI, B.C.







On a sunny Saturday afternoon, representatives from the federal government came to Nuu-chah-nulth territory to offer an apology from Canada for the horrors the Nuu-chah-nulth people experienced at government- and church-operated residential schools.

"If we expect to move forward as a nation, we have to address the issues related to the effects that the Indian residential schools had on the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples," said deputy minister of Indian Affairs, Shirley Serafini. "We are here today to show our sincere sorrow for the abuses suffered by Nuu-chah-nulth people who attended residential schools. This is not to affect legal responsibilities, which will continue to be dealt with separately."

In her speech to the more than 400 people gathered to hear the apology, Serafini said that Canada, through treaty negotiations, came to realize that an apology for the residential school system imposed on the people was the only way to move forward in treaty-making with the Nuu-chah-nulth.

Emcee Cliff Atleo spoke about the historic importance of the day's events, and the importance of recognizing the multi-generational effects the residential school system had on Nuu-chah-nulth people.

"There was an interruption in the fabric of our lives that we are still dealing with to this day. Loss of language, culture, parenting skills, all stem from the upheaval caused by these residential schools. It affected all of us differently, and in different levels of magnitude in terms of severity. Some people have dealt with the personal pains caused by their being forced into residential schools. Some are just starting to deal with their pain now, and some never had the chance to address their pains because they've passed on.

He said the apology should be viewed as an important first step.

"Many will see this as not being enough. We do not pretend to be speaking for all Nuu-chah-nulth people, but it should be recognized as a step in the right direction."

After reading the full text of the federal government's apology to the Nuu-chah-nulth people, Serafini then presented a framed copy of the apology to the leadership.

Nelson Keitlah then offered a passionate response to the federal apology in the Nuu-chah-nulth language, and received a standing ovation.

"We can receive it [the apology], but it's up to us as individuals to decide if we accept it," said Richard Watts. "There is still healing to go on, and that may take generations to happen. This goes a long way in helping some of us."

Archie Little asked that a moment of silence be observed for all the people that have passed on, and were unable to witness the ceremony.

"I remember the first day I went to Mission School. You never fully understand the loneliness until you experience it," he said.

"This apology needs to be said in the House of Commons," said Little. "It needs to be said by the prime minister, and it needs to be addressed by the world courts. I'll always remember my number, 511, on these lands of my grandfather," said Little. "I accept this apology for myself. I've accepted my history and I'm moving on."

After a lunch hosted by Canada, a number of former students came forward to acknowledge Canada's apology. Many people thanked Canada for finally admitting its role in the attempted cultural genocide and abusive atmosphere that has left such a painful legacy.

Responses to the apology were overwhelmingly positive, with many people saying that the federal government's apology and recognition marks the beginning of the individual healing process.