Canada will apologize for a policy that forced native children into boarding schools in an effort over a century ago to “civilize” and assimilate the nation’s indigenous population into mainstream culture and religion, the Los Angeles Times recently reported.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will offer an expiation on behalf of the schools and will ask more than 150,000 students and their descendants to consider forgiving the country.
Sixty-year old Thomas Louttit was forced to attend one of the dozens of residential schools for eight years. He told the Times that children were assigned numbers for an identity, sexually abused and terrorized, thus leaving many scarred as adults. Many of Louttit’s friends committed suicide or battled alcohol abuse.
The federal government has already begun payouts from its $1.9 billion compensation fund for natives, the Times reported. Yet for many, monetary compensation is not enough. Dr. Roland Chrisjohn, director of the Native Studies program at St. Thomas University in Saskatchewan, said these schools and their affiliated churches must confront the truth.
“The important thing is that they own up to what they did, admit that it is unconscionable, and it was genocide,” Chrisjohn said.
The last residential school was shut down 12 years ago, decades after some of the first schools were built. In 1996, a federal commission determined that the schools were detrimental to the native population and outlined a program of healing and redress.