Canada aboriginal schools were 'cultural genocide': report

Wed Jun 3, 2015 3:22pm EDT
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By Mike De Souza

OTTAWA (Reuters) - 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 found on Tuesday.

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

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."

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 and sent to schools far away.

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.   Continued...

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde runs with a school girl to place a heart shaped card in the Heart Garden, which is meant to symbolize reconciliation, during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada closing ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa June 3, 2015.     REUTERS/Blair Gable