Apology Awaited – Compensation Begins for Residential School Survivors
The final step in a long journey of healing for residential school survivors is an official apology from the prime minister, native leaders said yesterday in Edmonton.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine said Stephen Harper should issue an apology in a significant public ceremony, just as Brian Mulroney did for Japanese-Canadians who were forced into internment camps during the Second World War.”It’s no longer a legal issue, it’s a moral issue,” Fontaine said.
Harper, speaking in Winnipeg, dodged a question about whether such an apology would be forthcoming.
“Part of the important part of the process set up by the residential school settlement is the truth and reconciliation commission and I will have some important announcements in that regard in the very near future,” he said.
Fontaine and other native leaders were in Edmonton for a ceremony to commemorate the first payout under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, presented to 62-year-old Mary Moonias of Hobbema, about 100 km south of the city.
“This is the greatest day of my life,” said Moonias, who spent 10 years in the Ermineskin Indian Residential School. “This is a beautiful day for me.”
The payments compensate victims for the loss of land and culture and disruption of family life caused by their forced placement in residential schools.
Roughly 150,000 First Nation students attended residential schools in every province except New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island from the 1870s to the 1970s.
Ottawa conceded almost 10 years ago that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools.
Speaking in Cree and wearing eagle feathers in her hair, Moonias embodied what residential schools tried to strip away from First Nations people, said Fontaine.
“We will never be broken,” he said. “We will never give in to any attempt to make us into something we are not.”
The payments are a recognition on the part of the government and of the churches that ran the schools of the pain they inflicted on innocent people, added Fontaine.
“It is now possible for this country to achieve reconciliation,” he said. “Now we can bridge this distance.”
On average, each of the 80,000 survivors will receive $28,000, depending on how many years they spent in the schools.
Moonias didn’t have plans for how she would spend her money, but said she recently retired from her position as a Cree teacher to care for her ailing husband.
She said the payment would help her heal and hoped that it would allow people to move on.
“Let’s celebrate that we’re here. We survived,” she said. “Let’s learn to talk about our pain and move on. I want my people to move on.”
By Nicki Thomas, SUN MEDIA
October 5, 2007