Canadian governments and churches pursued a policy of “cultural genocide” against the country’s aboriginal people throughout the 20th century, according to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
After seven years of investigation, including the collection of evidence from thousands of people, the commission has called for a new era of forgiveness and understanding even as it exposed in excruciating detail the cultural and personal devastation inflicted on Canada’s First Nations.
The commission states that these policies and measures “were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.”
The commission’s final report also claims that: “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”
According to this investigation, 150,000 native Canadian children were forcibly removed from their families, incarcerated in residential schools and abused, physically, emotionally and even sexually. Starting in the 19th century until the 1970s, thousands of aboriginal children were forced to attend Christian schools to rid them of their native cultures and integrate them into Canadian society, against their will. Children placed in residential schools were forbidden from speaking their native languages and subjected to routine physical abuse, inadequate nutrition and neglect. Sexual abuse was common, according to the survivors who testified at commission hearings throughout the country.
According to Murray Sinclair, the Commission chair, “They were stripped of their self-respect and they were stripped of their identity”.
The report makes 94 recommendations to repair the damage to First Nations society, which is evident throughout Canada. Native children are eight times more likely than other Canadian children to be wards of child protection services, according to Wilson. They are massively overrepresented in the country’s jails.
Recommendations in the report aim to repair cultural attitudes that remain unchanged from 100 years ago, including changes to educational curricula.
Aboriginal affairs minister Bernard Valcourt responded to the report by promising the government’s continuing “commitment to joining Canada’s aboriginal peoples on a journey to healing and reconciliation”.