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Don’t Politicize Apology for Residential Schools, Natives say

by NationTalk on April 19, 2008591 Views

April 18, 2008

BILL CURRY
Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Former students of Canada’s Indian residential schools have waited decades for a federal apology – a clear statement they hope will ease the emotional scars of their childhood.But with the Conservative government promising that the apology is just weeks away, the Assembly of First Nations is threatening to turn its back.

“The worst thing that could happen [is] if the government was to apologize to us and we rejected the apology,” Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the AFN, said.

The remarks at a news conference announcing May 29 as a national day of action were a clear warning to the Harper government: Do not use the promised apology as a political tactic.

Joined by church, student and union leaders yesterday, Mr. Fontaine said May 29 will be used to raise awareness of worsening poverty in aboriginal communities. But he said he’s hearing rumours that the residential schools apology will be scheduled shortly before to provide a good news story in the midst of news media attention on natives saying they are being ignored by Ottawa.

“We know the government will do whatever necessary to blunt the effectiveness of the national day of action,” he said. “[The apology] is not about scoring political points, and if the apology is all about that, then we will look at that moment very, very carefully.”

Mr. Fontaine said former students are expecting a major event where Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologizes in the House of Commons and the public galleries are filled with aboriginals and church leaders.

As for the day of action itself, Mr. Fontaine said he hopes it will be similar to last year’s event in which natives and non-natives gathered across the country for largely peaceful protests. While claiming that aboriginal poverty has actually worsened since last year’s protests, he said he disagrees with those who suggest more radical action is required to get the government’s attention.

He noted that society never seems to mind when other groups, such as farmers, temporarily shut down streets for demonstrations.

“Yet in our case, people get all anxious and worried that we’re going to do something that is going to undermine the laws of the land. We’ve never advocated that. I know that there are people that are saying: ‘Look, we have to become more aggressive. We have to stop the trains. We have to blockade this highway or that highway. We have to occupy buildings.’ Well, I don’t know if that would work to our advantage in the long run.”

Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said the apology will take place during one of the final six weeks left in the parliamentary session before the June 20 summer recess. He said he has taken the AFN’s written advice under consideration, but is also talking to other aboriginal and church groups.

“We’ll make sure it’s a respectful and meaningful apology,” he said.

Source: Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission (APC)

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