Ten years after the Canadian government issued a Statement of Reconciliation that acknowledged and expressed regret for its role in the establishment and operation of native residential schools, and apologized to those who suffered abuse, it is preparing to do it all over again. It is important this time to get it right.
The first apology, made by Jane Stewart, the then-Indian Affairs minister, did not take. It was not sufficient to the wrongs that had been perpetrated, either symbolically or in substance. This time it is the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who will rise in the House of Commons to again apologize on behalf of Canadians.
This act of contrition will not undo the paternalism and abuse suffered, nor will it remove this stain from Canadian history. But, if done correctly, it will serve as a necessary step to restore dignity to those who attended residential schools and affirm to all aboriginals Canada's regret for assimilationist policies of the past.
The success of the apology will depend entirely on the words spoken by Mr. Harper. It must be sincere and meaningful, in the style of the deeply moving apology offered by the then-Anglican Primate of Canada, Archbishop Michael Peers, in 1993. He spoke of his feelings of "shame and humiliation"; he apologized repeatedly, at one point saying, "I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image"; and he said, "I accept and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed God." More...