BTC: Apologia

A full review of the day will be up soon. The day’s key speeches, aside from the Prime Minister’s remarks, do not appear to have been posted online as yet. So below I’ll reprint excerpts from the apologies of Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion and Jack Layton, as well as the remarks of Phil Fontaine.

Stephen Harper

The prepared text of the Prime Minister’s speech can be found here. That version omits only his opening remarks, which were as follows.

“Mr. Speaker, before I begin officially, let me just take a moment to acknowledge the role of certain colleagues here in the House of Commons in today’s events. Although the responsibility for the apology is ultimately mine alone, there are several of my colleagues who do deserve the credit.

“First, for their hard work and professionalism, I do want to thank both the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and his predecessor, now the Minister of Industry. These gentlemen have both been strong and passionate advocates, not just of today’s action, but also of the historic Indian residential schools settlement that our government has signed.

“Second, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my former colleague from Cariboo-Chilcotin, Philip Mayfield, who was a determined voice in our caucus for a very long time for meaningful action on this sad episode of our history.

“Last, but certainly not least, I do want to thank my colleague, the Leader of the New Democratic Party. For the past year and a half, he has spoken to me with regularity and great conviction on the need for this apology. His advice, given across party lines and in confidence, has been persuasive and has been greatly appreciated.”

Stephane Dion

“Mr. Speaker, today Canada comes face to face with some of the darkest chapters of its history…

“For too long Canadian governments chose denial over truth and, when confronted with the weight of truth, chose silence. For too long Canadian governments refused to acknowledge their direct role in creating the residential school system and perpetrating their dark and insidious goal of wiping out aboriginal identity and culture. For too long Canadian governments chose to ignore the consequences of this tragedy instead of trying to understand them so that the suffering of first nations, Métis and Inuit communities continues to this day…

“Today, we lay the first stone in building a new monument, a monument dedicated to truth, reconciliation and healing. 

“Today, we representatives of the Canadian people apologize to those who survived residential schools and to those who died as a result of the laws enacted by previous governments and parliaments. By speaking directly to survivors and victims today on the floor of the House of Commons, we apologize to those who died waiting for these words to be spoken and these wrongs acknowledged.

“Successive Canadian governments and various churches were complicit in the mental, physical and sexual abuse of thousands of aboriginal children through the residential school system. As the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the party that was in government for more than 70 years in the 20th century, I acknowledge our role and our shared responsibility in this tragedy. I am deeply sorry. I apologize…

“I am sorry that Canada wilfully attempted to eradicate your identity and culture by taking you away from your families when you were children and by building a system to punish you for who you were.

“To first nations, Inuit and Métis, mothers and fathers, I am so very sorry we took away your children. I am sorry we did not value you as parents or trust and respect you.

“Today’s apology is about a past that should have been completely different. But it must be also about the future. It must be about collective reconciliation and fundamental changes.

“It must be about moving forward together, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, into a future based on respect. It is about trying to find in each of us some of the immense courage that we see in the eyes of those who have survived…

“We must together, as a nation, face the truth to ensure that we never have to apologize to another generation, that the tragedy of forced assimilation of aboriginal peoples in Canada never happens again.

“I say this thinking of the survivors I met last night. One woman remembers clearly her early days growing up in an isolated community with her family. At age seven, her father took her by canoe to a residential school. She has great memories of life with her parents and siblings up to that day. Yet she has no memory of the years she spent at the residential school. She survived by erasing all memory of the harsh treatment she endured…

“Reconciliation will require a commitment from Canadian society for action. This means ensuring that all aboriginal Canadians, first nations, Inuit and Métis alike share in the bounty and opportunity of this country. This means ensuring that we hear the voices of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in their own languages and that these aboriginal voices and languages continue to enrich the cultural heritage of the world.

“We cannot be intimidated by the scale of the challenge or discouraged by the failures of the past. We owe it to all our children to pass along an even better country than we inherited from our parents and we will not do so as long as aboriginal peoples continue to be left behind.

“Four years after the conclusion of the five year Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada will mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation. On that anniversary, it is my sincere hope that aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples in this country will fulfill the dream voiced in the very building 60 years ago by decorated aboriginal veteran Thomas Prince, a dream of first nations, Inuit and Métis people and non-aboriginal Canadians forging a new and lasting relationship, in his own words, ‘so that they can trust each other and…can walk side by side and face this world having faith and confidence in one another.’

“Until that day, we humbly offer our apology as the first step on the path to reconciliation and healing. Merci; thank you; megwitch; egase; nakamic.”

Jack Layton

“Today, I rise in this House to add the voice of the New Democratic Party to the profound apology being offered humbly to first nations, Métis and Inuit on behalf of the Canadian people.

“I wish to acknowledge and honour the elders who are with us here today and are participating in this ceremony the length and breadth of this land at this very moment…

“I wish to recognize the children here in this chamber today and watching at home in gatherings across the land who also bear witness to the legacy of the residential schools.

“Most importantly I want to say to the survivors of the residential schools, some of whom have joined us here today, we are sorry for what has taken place.

“It was this Parliament that enacted 151 years ago the racist legislation that established the residential schools. This Parliament chose to treat first nations, Métis and Inuit people as not equally human. It set out to kill the Indian in the child. That choice was horribly wrong. It led to incredible suffering, denied first nations, Métis and Inuit the basic freedom to choose how to live their lives. For those wrongs that we have committed, we are truly sorry.

“Our choice denied their children the love and nurturing of their own families and communities…

“The horrors of the residential schools continue to harm even those who never experienced them personally. There can be no equivocation. The laws consciously enacted in this House put the residential schools into place and kept them going for many years.

“It is in this House that we must start the process of reconciliation. That is why we are here together today and why we are here together to say we are sorry. It is a crucial first step.

“However, reconciliation must be built through positive steps that show respect and restore trust. This apology must not be an end. It must be a beginning…

“But reconciliation also means that as a Parliament and as a country, we must take action to address the terrible inequality faced by first nations, Métis and Inuit communities. We can start by restoring the nation-to-nation relationship between the Government of Canada, first nations, Métis and the Inuit.

“Even as we speak here today, thousands of aboriginal children are without proper schools or clean water, adequate food, their own bed, good health care, safety, comfort, land and rights.

“We can no longer throw up our hands and say, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’ Taking responsibility and working toward reconciliation means saying, ‘We must act together to resolve this.’

“Let us reverse the horrific and shameful statistics afflicting aboriginal populations, now, the high rates of poverty, suicide, poor or no education, overcrowding, crumbling housing, unsafe drinking water, and let us make sure that every survivor the residential schools receives the recognition and compensation that is due to them…

“This must be our deep collective commitment. Let us all, first nations, Métis, Inuit, Canadians who have been here for generations and new Canadians, build a fair and equal and respectful Canada for all.

“Meegwetch. Ekosi. Nakurmiik.”

Chief Phil Fontaine

“Prime Minister, Chief Justice, members of the House, elders, survivors, Canadians, for our parents, our grandparents, great grandparents, indeed for all of the generations which have preceded us, this day testifies to nothing less than the achievement of the impossible.

“This morning our elders held a condolence ceremony for those who never heard an apology, never received compensation, yet courageously fought assimilation so that we could witness this day. Together we remember and honour them for it was they who suffered the most as they witnessed generation after generation of their children taken from their families’ love and guidance. For the generations that will follow us, we bear witness today in this House that our survival as first nations peoples in this land is affirmed forever.

“Therefore, the significance of this day is not just about what has been but, equally important, what is to come. Never again will this House consider us the Indian problem just for being who we are.

“We heard the Government of Canada take full responsibility for this dreadful chapter in our shared history. We heard the Prime Minister declare that this will never happen again. Finally, we heard Canada say it is sorry.

“Brave survivors, through the telling of their painful stories, have stripped white supremacy of its authority and legitimacy. The irresistibility of speaking truth to power is real. Today is not the result of a political game. Instead, it is something that shows the righteousness and importance of our struggle. We know we have many difficult issues to handle. There are many fights still to be fought. What happened today signifies a new dawn in the relationship between us and the rest of Canada. We are and always have been an indispensable part of the Canadian identity.

“Our peoples, our history and our present being are the essence of Canada. The attempts to erase our identities hurt us deeply but it also hurt all Canadians and impoverished the character of this nation. We must not falter in our duty now. Emboldened by this spectacle of history, it is possible to end our racial nightmare together. The memories of residential schools sometimes cut like merciless knives at our souls. This day will help us to put that pain behind us.

“But it signifies something even more important: a respectful and, therefore, liberating relationship between us and the rest of Canada. Together we can achieve the greatness our country deserves. The apology today is founded upon, more than anything else, the recognition that we all own our own lives and destinies, the only true foundation for a society where peoples can flourish.

“We must now capture a new spirit and vision to meet the challenges of the future. As a great statesman once said, we are all part of one ‘garment of destiny.’ The differences between us are not blood or colour and ‘the ties that bind us are deeper than those that separate us.’

“The ‘common road of hope’ will bring us to reconciliation more than any words, laws or legal claims ever could. We still have to struggle, but now we are in this together.

“I reach out to all Canadians today in this spirit of reconciliation. Meegwetch.”

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