Yesterday our Prime Minister issued an historic apology to our First Nations people. A black mark in our nation's history was the forcible removal of aboriginal children from their homes and communities and placement in residential school run by churches in the 19th and 20th centuries. The idea was to educate them, assimilate them, and pretty much drive their cultural heritage out of them. The Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 assumed the inherent superiority of British ways, and the need for Indians to become English-speakers, Christians and farmers. Many were subjected to emotional, physical, and often sexual abuse in these residential schools.
Overcrowding of the schools led to increased incidence of disease and a high mortality rate among students. The schools were severely underfunded and the schools relied on the forced labour of their students.
Prime Minister Harper's apology yesterday was made in front of an audience of First Nations delegates and broadcast nationally. He apologized not only for the known excesses of the residential school system, but for the creation of the system itself meant to "kill the Indian in the child."
I thank God that our government, on behalf of all Canadians, has issued a formal apology to our First Nations sisters and brothers. We have also begun paying financial restitution for the pain and suffering that was inflicted on them by this government policy. I pray that this might help to bring about healing, forgiveness and reconciliation and that we can live in a spirit of renewed harmony.
Many of our First Peoples still live in poverty, a disproportionate number of them compared to our nation as a whole. A private members bill is stalled in our Senate. It's an agreement that has been negotiated between several levels of government — federal, provincial and First Nations — that would be a great step toward closing the gap in living standards between First Nations people and the rest of Canada. If you're a Canadian reader of this blog (I don't know if anybody reads this thing) then you can write a letter to the Prime Minister and your local Member of Parliament with help here (http://www.makepovertyhistory.ca/en/sorry/take-action). It's a way for yesterday's apology to mean even more.