TORONTO (Reuters) - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to work toward full reconciliation with Canadian Aboriginals on Tuesday as he accepted a final report on the abuses of the government’s now-defunct system of residential schools for indigenous children.
The forcible separation of some 150,000 children from their families over more than 100 years was an attempt to end the existence of Aboriginals as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada, the long-awaited report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded.
“Our goal, as we move forward together, is clear: it is to lift this burden from your shoulders, from those of your families and communities. It is to accept fully our responsibilities and our failings, as a government and as a country,” Trudeau told hundreds of residential school survivors as the report was released in Ottawa.
Trudeau, elected in October, said last week it was time to renew the relationship between Canada and its Aboriginals, and has set up an inquiry to investigate a trend of missing and murdered indigenous women.
The commission, launched as part of a settlement with survivors, said Canada pursued a 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.”
The report documented horrific physical abuse, rape, malnutrition and other atrocities suffered by many of the children who attended the schools, typically run by Christian churches on behalf of Ottawa from the 1840s to the 1990s.
The report, the result of a six-year investigation into the matter, identified 3,201 student deaths at residential schools, but said it is probable that many more deaths went unrecorded.
“Many students who went to residential school never returned. They were lost to their families... No one took care to count how many died or to record where they were buried,” the report said.
The legacy of the residential school system persists as many Canadian aboriginals struggle to recover from generations of family separation.
Aboriginals, who make up about 5 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.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper apologized to the survivors of the residential schools in 2008.
The group made 94 reconciliatory recommendations, including special human rights and anti-racism training for public servants.
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Alan Crosby