Canada reopens its "most disgraceful" act

Wed May 28, 2008 8:12pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - After decades of foot-dragging, Canada is finally about to take a close look at what one aboriginal leader calls "the single most disgraceful, harmful and racist act in our history."

From the 1870s to the 1970s, around 150,000 native Indian children were forcibly removed from their parents and sent to distant residential schools, where many say they were abused mentally, physically and sexually.

Conditions in the schools -- run by various churches on behalf of the government -- were sometimes dire. Contemporary accounts suggest up to half the children in some institutions died of tuberculosis.

One prominent academic calls what happened a genocide, yet for many years few Canadians knew what had happened.

Now, for the first time, the mainstream population will be learning a lot more about what was done in its name.

As part of a C$1.9 billion ($1.9 billion) settlement between Ottawa and the 90,000 school survivors in May 2006 that ended years of law suits, a truth and reconciliation commission is set to start work on June 1.

The commission, which has a life span of five years, will travel across Canada and hold public hearings on the abuses.

"You have to get the truth out ... it seems impossible today but it's real, it happened," said federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl.   Continued...

<p>Native women chant during a march in the rundown lower eastside in Vancouver, British Columbia in this February 14, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Andy Clark/Files</p>