Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Etobicoke North.
I am pleased to speak in support of the motion brought by my colleague, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.
The House of Commons, Canada's body of elected representatives of all Canadians, is asked to apologize to the survivors of Indian residential schools.
The House is being asked to apologize to the survivors for the trauma which they suffered as a direct result of policies whose purpose or intention was to assimilate first nations, Inuit and Métis children. The apology is for causing the loss of their culture, their heritage and their language. The apology is for leaving a sad legacy of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
An apology is entirely appropriate and is ethically and morally the right thing, the proper thing, to do.
For several decades, the Government of Canada was complicit, with certain churches, in implementing a policy toward aboriginal children and their parents, which was cruel, meanspirited, racist and contrary to the principles which govern our nation, and certainly contrary to the moral and ethical fibre which Canadians of good conscience posses.
I was pleased to hear earlier today the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development say, “The House should apologize and I am confident at the end of the day that the House will apologize”. I am confident at the end of the day that the House will apologize.
He was further correct when he stated, in response to a question, “Frankly, there are members in every single party in this House of Commons that deserve some credit from bringing this matter forward through to the resolution of the May 8, 2006 agreement”.
As was the Minister of Indian Affairs, as well as the now Minister of Natural Resources and the now Minister of Revenue, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. I heard stories from survivors, which were jarring in their impact and absolutely convinced me that the manner in which young children were treated was despicable and remains, arguably, the largest single blight on Canada's essentially unblemished record as a beacon of decency toward and respect for all citizens.
I have the privilege of representing the most populated first nations community in Canada, the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. Within my riding of Brant was a residential school, the Mohawk Institute. I have spoken to many survivors of that facility.
The Mohawk Institute was one of several residential schools for Indian children in Canada and was part of the Indian education system administered by the Department of Indian Affairs.
The Mohawk Institute was founded by the New England Company in the period 1828 to 1834. The New England Company was originally known as “The Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America”. Its mandate was to propagate the Christian religion to and among “heathen natives” and to civilize, teach and instruct the said heathen natives and their children.
The New England Company operated the Mohawk Institute residential school until 1922 with, financial assistance from the Department of Indian Affairs . In 1922, the company entered into a lease agreement with the Department of Indian Affairs, whereby the Department agreed to continue and maintain the institute as an educational institution for Indian boys and girls.
Paul Dixon is a survivor of the Mohawk Institute. Paul Dixon tells his story:
I remember getting on the bus the first time we were taken to the Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ontario. I was six years old and had no idea where we were headed. Some of the kids only had an apple or a sandwich for the 24-hour journey. We were hungry, and some kids were crying; it was very sad right from the beginning....
My father was told by the Indian Agent that their welfare and family allowance would be cut off if he didn’t allow his children to go. He was also coerced into sending us to learn the white man’s way when he was told by the Indian Agent that if he didn’t, we would have no future...
I learned in residential school to love and trust nobody. That’s what they taught me by how we were treated. The only time I told my mother I loved her was on her deathbed, which is something I regret to this day.
When you go through something like that you become very scared of intimacy and sharing your feelings....
I didn’t know right from wrong as far as sexual abuse. How was I supposed to know what an adult can and cannot do to me as a child? Keys were thrown at us, we were beaten with thick black straps along with fists.
Paul Dixon now has three children of his own. As he says:
I always tell my children I love them. I get pushed away because I want to kiss them, even if they’re no longer kids. I want to make sure they feel loved like every child should.
Paul Dixon is only one of many survivors or victims of residential schools abuse at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford. The school was a place where large numbers of native children were brought to live, to work, ostensibly to learn, while being cut off from their families and their first nations communities. The children lived in an atmosphere of intimidation, brutality and fear and they were forbidden in any way to maintain their native culture.
They were taken from their homes and dealt with, often in a very harsh fashion, by total strangers whose intention was to turn them into non-natives, non-aboriginals, non-first nations, non-Métis, non-Inuit, in other words, to turn them into persons completely different from their genetic makeup, completely different from their culture, completely different from their traditions, completely different from their parents.
It is entirely appropriate that the House and the Prime Minister apologize to the still living survivors or victims of residential schools. As was noted by Dutch physician Paul Boese, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future”.
Without a proper, dignified, formal apology provided by the House and our Prime Minister, on behalf of all Canadians, to the victims who were wronged and treated dishonourably, we cannot in good conscience ask them to forgive the Canadian government for the manner in which they were treated.
We need to move on in our relationship with survivors of residential school abuse. We need to apologize to them, to reach out to them and to verbalize in as sincere and profound a fashion as possible that we are sorry for what happened for those decades. We need to understand that the past cannot be changed, but that reconciling ourselves with the past will in fact enlarge our future together as peoples who share this part of God's earth.
I hope all members of the House will see fit to join in apologizing to survivors of residential schools.