Spotlight on Residential Schools


December 2000

I am honoured to be here today on behalf of the Government of Canada. Minister Nault has asked me to extend his best wishes to your communities.

Your community has told representatives of my department that if we hope to move forward in a process of renewal, it is essential that we deal with the legacies of the Indian Residential School system and its effects on the Nuu-chah-nulth. This message was conveyed consistently in discussions as the framework agreement was developed and following the establishment of a side table to address issues relating to Indian Residential Schools specifically.

I would like to acknowledge the work of Charlie Cootes, Richard Lucas, Simon Read and Ron Hamilton, all members of your community who have represented your interests as the text of the apology was developed. They have steadfastly maintained that an apology is required. They have educated the department’s representatives about the particular Nuu-chah-nulth experiences at Indian Residential Schools and provided guidance throughout the process to ensure that the wording developed would resonate with your community.

Let me say, first, that the apology I am about to give is our expression of the Government of Canada’s deep and heartfelt sorrow for abuses and other wrongs that happened to your people in Indian Residential Schools, and that have left a legacy that continues in your communities today. The apology is not meant to address or affect legal issues or responsibilities. Those will be dealt with elsewhere. Across the country, the Government has acknowledged its legal liability to individuals who have suffered physical or sexual abuse at Indian Residential Schools. We have already had discussions with your tribal council about an alternative dispute resolution process, where questions of liability and financial compensation can be settled quickly and fairly. But, today, we are here to talk about healing. About reconciliation. About a new relationship, founded on trust and respect.

Reconciliation is an ongoing process. I believe that the step which we are about to take today is a significant one, but it is only part of a larger process of renewal. Our efforts to work together on a healing strategy to assist both individuals and communities in dealing with the legacies of the Indian Residential School system must continue, both on a local and on a national level.

And so, as I read the following words, I am looking to the future, a future based on mutual respect.

I am here today on behalf of the Government of Canada to apologize to the Nuu-chah-nulth people for Canada’s role in the Indian residential school system that has profoundly affected your people for over 100 years.

Sadly, our history with respect to the treatment of Aboriginal people, including Nuu-chah-nulth, is not something in which we can take pride. Attitudes of racial and cultural superiority led to a suppression of Aboriginal culture and values. As a country, we are burdened by past actions that resulted in weakening the identity of Nuu-chah-nulth peoples, suppressing their languages and cultures and outlawing spiritual practices. We recognize the impact of these actions on the once self-sustaining nations that were disaggregated, disrupted, limited or even destroyed by the dispossession of traditional territory, by the relocation of Aboriginal people, including Nuu-chah-nulth, and by some provisions of the Indian Act. We acknowledge that the result of these actions was the erosion of the political, economic and social systems of Aboriginal people and nations, including Nuu-chah-nulth.

Over the past year, representatives of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) have been meeting with representatives of your communities to talk about the impacts of the Indian residential school system and what needs to be done to address the legacy of this system and the ongoing issues you confront. One of the things we have learned is that Canada needs to acknowledge its role in the development and administration of this system and the impact this system has had on your lives. This apology to the Nuu-chah-nulth will serve as a basis for creating a new set of relationships between the Nuu-chah-nulth and the Government of Canada and to create hope for more respectful relationships in the future.

As many of you know, Canada’s first step in acknowledging its role in developing and administering the system of Indian Residential Schools was through the Statement of Reconciliation delivered by the former Minister of DIAND on January 8, 1998.

Since that statement was delivered, Canada’s representatives have, at the invitation of your community, been meeting with the Nuu-chah-nulth in order to learn more about your community’s experiences in Indian Residential Schools. We have learned that approximately 5000 Nuu-Chah-Nulth attended eight Indian Residential Schools in British Columbia:

  • Ahousaht Indian Residential School;
  • Alberni Indian Residential School;
  • Christie Indian Residential School;
  • Coqualeetza Indian Residential School;
  • Kamloops Indian Residential School;
  • Kuper Island Indian Residential School;
  • St. Mary’s Indian Residential School; and,
  • St. Michael’s Indian Residential School
  • Canada shared in the administration and operation of these Indian Residential Schools with one of the Anglican, Catholic or United churches who oversaw their day-to-day running. Through their history, these schools separated Nuu-chah-nulth children from other children attending school in British Columbia. Nuu-chah-nulth languages and cultural practices were not respected in these schools. We have heard that while some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, such stories are far overshadowed by tragic stories of abuse, separation from families, the impacts on Nuu-chah-nulth languages and culture and of a legacy which contributes to social problems which continue to exist in your communities today.

    And so it is the Nuu-Chah-Nulth experiences which bring us here today. Many Nuu-Chah-Nulth children did not escape this tragedy. Former Nuu-Chah-Nulth students have made disclosures of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and about losing their connection to their culture, language and families. Members of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth community have shared their own experiences at Indian Residential Schools, some as part of developing the Report of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council titled Indian Residential Schools: the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Experience, at meetings organized by your own community members who have recognized the need to achieve healing within the larger Nuu-Chah-Nulth community or as part of the making of the Nitinaht Chronicles or Beyond Survival. Sadly, some Nuu-Chah-Nulth former students have had to tell of their experiences in a court room. These are not easy stories to hear. We can only imagine how hard they are to tell, and how much harder yet they were to have lived. We are all humbled by the dignity and courage these individuals have shown in coming forward and sharing these experiences.

    Former students have talked about the loneliness which resulted from separation from families and that this separation lead to a loss of relationship with their families. Many of the students returned to their communities unable to take up their responsibilities within their families or communities due to a loss of language and a loss of knowledge of traditional ceremonies. We will never hear the stories of those children who died in an Indian residential school and did not return home.

    We have learned, both from the Nitinaht Chronicles and the Nuu-Chah-Nulth report on Indian Residential Schools how the legacy of residential schools has contributed to other social problems including addictions, unstable family relationships, poor health, anger, confusion and shame about their identities as Nuu-chah-nulth people. The Indian residential school system disrupted the transfer of appropriate parenting skills and introduced models of discipline which were not in your tradition.

    Canada apologizes to the Nuu-chah-nulth people for its role in planning, designing,

    building and administering the system of Indian Residential Schools and accepts that the existence of the schools was profoundly disrespectful of Aboriginal people.

    Canada apologizes for all the suffering of Nuu-Chah-Nulth children who were victims in these institutions of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

    Canada apologizes to those Nuu-Chah-Nulth families whose children returned from Indian Residential Schools unable to take up their responsibilities within their families due to loss of language and loss of knowledge of traditional ceremonies.

    Canada apologizes to those individuals who have had to struggle alone where their lack of Nuu-cha-nulth language has prevented them from hearing the teachings of their parents and grandparents or understanding the traditional ceremonies and disrupted their spiritual, mental and emotional connection to the land and its resources.

    Canada acknowledges the legacy that has been left by Indian Residential Schools and apologizes to those generations who have been and continue to be affected by this legacy.

    Canada apologizes for the loneliness endured by those who were separated from their parents, siblings, elders and other family members through their attendance at Indian Residential Schools.

    Canada apologizes for the emotional burden placed on mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents who had members of their families attending Indian Residential Schools and the effect this separation had on the bonds within those families.

    Canada apologizes and offers condolences to those Nuu-chah-nulth families whose children died and never returned home from Indian Residential Schools.

    In making this apology, Canada commits to continue efforts with you to find ways in which Nuu-chah-nulth people can participate fully in the economic, political, cultural and social life of Canada, in a manner that preserves and enhances the collective

    Nuu-chah-nulth identify and allows Nuu-chah-nulth to evolve and flourish.

    The Canadian government’s delegation here today is honoured that you have permitted us to come to your community and share in this healing ceremony. We know that the process we are part of today has not been easy. We commend the strength you have shown throughout.

    We honour the spirit of those who have gone before you, your ancestors, who watch over us and provide you with guidance as we embark on this healing path together today.

    The strength you have shown as individuals, families, and First Nations fortifies us in our conviction to work hard to ensure that what happened to you will never happen again, to you, to your families, in your communities or to any other community.

    In closing, I would ask that if it is within your hearts, either now or in the future, that those of you who are able to do so can forgive us.

    Thank you.

    Delivered by Shirley Serafini, Deputy Minister IAND on behalf of the Government of Canada on December 9, 2000 - plaque on frame.

    Residential School


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