Tearful Justin Trudeau Offers Emotional Apology To Indigenous Peoples Of Canada

"These are the hard truths that are part of Canada's history. These are the hard truths we must confront as a society."

In a move that he referred to as "long overdue," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a formal apology to the Indigenous peoples of Canada Friday. Trudeau specifically acknowledged the thousands of children who were taken from their homes to be educated in state-run schools in the mid-20th century. There, students suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse, adding to a complex legacy that politicians, including the current administration, have sought to rectify and that brought Trudeau almost to tears during his speech. 

"Saying that we are sorry today is not enough," Trudeau said. "The treatment of indigenous children in residential schools is a painful chapter in Canada's history that we must acknowledge and confront. For too long, it's a chapter we chose to skip."

In 2008, then-prime minister Stephen Harper apologized and offered a compensation package to students of the residential schools that did not include the students of the schools specifically addressed by Trudeau on Friday, as the schools were not run by the federal government itself. Last year, about 1,000 students from those excluded schools accepted a 50 million CAD settlement from the Trudeau administration. 

"Many were sorely neglected, not properly fed, clothed or housed," Trudeau said of students of the residential schools in the address. "Others suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse. All were deprived of the love and care of their families, of their parents, of their communities."

He continued:

"These are the hard truths that are part of Canada's history. These are the hard truths we must confront as a society. Today, I humbly stand before you to offer a long overdue apology...The kind of thinking that led to the establishment of the residential school system, and left deep scars for so many, has no place in our society. It was unacceptable then, and it is unacceptable now." 

The Canadian boarding school system is said to have been based on the one established in the United States in the 1870s that saw the relocation of nearly 100,000 American Indian and Alaskan native children to off-reservation boarding schools. An estimated two-thirds of the American Indian population attended the schools that were meant to "Kill the Indian in him, and save the man," as founder Richard Pratt said during a speech in 1892. 

While not all Indigenous nations accepted the apology, leaders stressed it was up to individuals to decide whether or not they would be participating in the ceremony Friday. Inuk residential school survivor Toby Obed spoke immediately following the prime minister's address. 

"Because I come from a patient and forgiving culture, I think it is proper for us to accept an apology from the government of Canada," he said. "I accept your apology on behalf of the residential school survivors, even though some of them may not want me to. I never thought this would happen."


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