Canada’s  'cultural genocide'

Canada’s 'cultural genocide'


A Canadian policy of forcibly separating aboriginal children from their families and sending them to residential schools amounted to "cultural genocide," a six-year investigation into the now-defunct system has found.

The residential school system tried to eradicate aboriginal culture and assimilate children into mainstream Canada, said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s long-awaited report.

In an archive photo from 1960, nuns from the Soeurs du Sacre-Coeur d'Ottawa pose with students at the Pukatawagan Residential School, in Pukatawagan, Manitoba.

. ALERT BAY, Canada. REUTERS/Department of Citizenship and Immigration-Information Division/Library and Archives Canada
In an archive photo from 1970, students walk on the driveway between two totem poles at St. Michael's Indian Residential School in Alert Bay, British Columbia.

The commission was launched as part of a settlement with survivors, hundreds of whom gathered at a ballroom in downtown Ottawa to hear the report's findings.

In prepared remarks unveiling the report, Justice Murray Sinclair, who headed the panel, acknowledged "that what took place in residential schools amounts to nothing short of cultural genocide – a systematic and concerted attempt to extinguish the spirit of Aboriginal peoples."

. SAULT STE MARIE, Canada. REUTERS/Department of Citizenship and Immigration-Information Division/Library and Archives Canada
Girls sit on beds in a dormitory at the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario in an archive photo from 1960.

The report documented horrific physical abuse, rape, malnutrition and other atrocities suffered by many of the 150,000 children who attended the schools, typically run by Christian churches on behalf of Ottawa from the 1840s to the 1990s.

Children as young as five years old were removed from their families and ancestral lands then sent to schools far away.

. FORT RESOLUTION, Canada. REUTERS/Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys/Library and Archives Canada
A group of students takes part in a sewing class at St Joseph's Convent, otherwise known as the Fort Resolution Indian Residential School, Northwest Territories, in an undated archive photo.

Sinclair said between 5 percent and 7 percent of students who went to the schools died there, although the commission was only able to document about 3,200 of those deaths. Most were buried in unmarked graves on school property.

Regarded as heathens and savages by the system's architects, they were beaten for speaking their native language and often forced to accept the Christian faith.

. IQALUIT, Canada. REUTERS/H. Leclair/Canada. Health and Welfare Canada collection/Library and Archives Canada
Nurse Desrochers checks a girl's throat while other children wait in line, at the Frobish Bay Federal Hostel in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in an archive photo from 1959.

The legacy of the residential school system persists as many Canadian aboriginals struggle to recover from generations of family separation.

Aboriginals, who make up 4 percent of Canada's population, have higher levels of poverty and a lower life expectancy than other Canadians, and are more often victims of violent crime, addiction and incarceration.

. CROSS LAKE, Canada. REUTERS/Canada. Dept. Indian and Northern Affairs/Library and Archives Canada
A group of female students and a nun pose in a classroom at Cross Lake Indian Residential School in Manitoba in an archive photo from February 1940.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to the survivors of the schools in 2008, relations between his Conservative government and Canada's 1.4 million aboriginals are strained.

. FORT SIMPSON, Canada. REUTERS/J.F. Moran/Library and Archives Canada
Children hold letters that spell "Goodbye" at Fort Simpson Indian Residential School in Northwest Territories in this 1922 archive photo.

Harper told Parliament his government would examine the report's recommendations before deciding on next steps.

The group made 94 reconciliatory recommendations, including special human rights and anti-racism training for public servants. It also urged the Pope to apologize to survivors and their families for the Catholic Church's role in the schools, as the church had done in 2010 for Irish victims of abuse.