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Indigenous Justice: Apologies and Accountability are Two Separate Things


31 August 2010

By Krystalline Kraus

Thursday June 24, 2010 was the G20 medicine walk for Indigenous rights. From the Defenders of the Land call out, "When the G8/G20 comes to Canada in June let's tell the world the real story about Canada's record on Indigenous rights: a continued policy that aims to terminate Indian Peoples by removing our land and resource base and denying us the right to self-determination, under the power of the Indian Act and the Department of Indian Affairs."

Thousands of people from First Nations and their supporters marched, sang, drummed and offered tobacco through the streets of Toronto to remind both Canadian citizens and the Canadian government alike that attention must be paid to the issues facing their people.

Through the Canadian government, there have been apologies, but little action.

In the lead up to the June 24 medicine walk, I wrote:

"With all the government's attempts to make Canada look perfect in the world's eyes this weekend, and with activists pointing fingers at global governments and economies, we must be truthful regarding our own record of human rights.

This kind of accountability must be important to any activist who wants to be the change they want to see.

How we treat ourselves and each other as brothers and sisters on the land we are blessed to be able to share is what will give our hearts courage.

Because it takes courage to confront the truth: Canada likes to play coy on the world stage and present itself as a world example but our "glowing hearts" cannot shine bright and true until we have the integrity to face our own shadows here on Mother Earth on the land we call Canada; and Canada's dirty big secret is our treatment of First Nations communities."

An apology without accountability and action towards change is meaningless.

But like I said, there have been apologies......

*

On Wednesday August 18, 2010, the Federal government issued a formal apology for the Inuit High Arctic relocation program which saw 87 Inuit relocated about 1,200 kilometres to Canada's most northerly settlements. The Inuit from Inukjuak, a community in northern Quebec, were moved to Grise Fiord and Resolute, in what is now the territory of Nunavut, in 1953 and 1956. Another three families from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, were also moved north to help the Inukjuaq families adjust to their new environment

On behalf of the Canadian government, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan said the government regrets the "mistakes and broken promises" in the transplanting of Inuit families - "High Arctic Exiles" - to unfamiliar and harsh Northern territory.

Due to poor planning, the relocated families spent their first winter in tents with not enough food and supplies. Critics argue that the Inuit were moved as a measure to assist the government in asserting Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic during the Cold War.

In his August 18 speech in Inukjuak, Nunavik, Duncan said:

"On behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians, we would like to offer a full and sincere apology to Inuit for the relocation of families from Inukjuak and Pond Inlet to Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay during the 1950s.

We would like to express our deepest sorrow for the extreme hardship and suffering caused by the relocation. The families were separated from their home communities and extended families by more than a thousand kilometres. They were not provided with adequate shelter and supplies. They were not properly informed of how far away and how different from Inukjuak their new homes would be, and they were not aware that they would be separated into two communities once they arrived in the High Arctic. Moreover, the Government failed to act on its promise to return anyone that did not wish to stay in the High Arctic to their old homes.

The Government of Canada deeply regrets the mistakes and broken promises of this dark chapter of our history and apologizes for the High Arctic relocation having taken place. We would like to pay tribute to the relocatees for their perseverance and courage.

Despite the suffering and hardship, the relocatees and their descendants were successful in building vibrant communities in Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay. The Government of Canada recognizes that these communities have contributed to a strong Canadian presence in the High Arctic.

The relocation of Inuit families to the High Arctic is a tragic chapter in Canada's history that we should not forget, but that we must acknowledge, learn from and teach our children. Acknowledging our shared history allows us to move forward in partnership and in a spirit of reconciliation.

The Government of Canada and Inuit have accomplished many great things together, and all Canadians have benefitted from the contributions of Inuit to our culture and history. We must continue to strengthen our connections and deepen our understanding and respect. We must jointly build a stronger, healthier and more vibrant Inuit Nunangat and, in turn, build a stronger, healthier and more vibrant Canada.

The Government of Canada hopes that this apology will help heal the wounds caused by events that began nearly 60 years ago and turn the page on this sad chapter in Canada's history. May it strengthen the foundation upon which the Government of Canada and Inuit can build and help keep the True North Strong and Free."

*

This government apology follows the Canadian government apology - delivered by Stephen Harper - on Wednesday June 11, 2010 for the government's role in Indian residential schools.

In the House of Commons, he delivered a speech saying "we are sorry" and said, "Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country...The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language.

While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.

The legacy of Indian residential schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today. It has taken extraordinary courage for the thousands of survivors that have come forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered."

He continued, "The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing and reconciliation.

Therefore, on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to aboriginal peoples for Canada's role in the Indian residential schools system.

To the approximately 80,000 living former students, and all family members and communities, the government of Canada now recognizes that it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes and we apologize for having done this.

We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions, that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this.

We now recognize that, in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done this.

We now recognize that, far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled, and we apologize for failing to protect you."

*

On Saturday June 12, 2010, Federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl accepted a "charter of forgiveness" from members of the aboriginal community as part of the healing process for survivors of Canada's residential schools.

The charter, stems from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's apology two years ago for previous government policies of assimilation. Standing in the House of Commons, Harper apologized on behalf of the government and asked for "forgiveness of the Aboriginal Peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly."

Harper's apology also triggered the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Jessica Yee, in her June 2, 2008 rabble.ca column Residential schools: Sorry excuse for an apology writes:

"While it is good to see the government showing some sort of accountability to the extreme genocide they have inflicted on Aboriginal peoples, I have to wonder if Harper even really knows what he's apologizing for.

Because his government has, so far:

--Refused to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, making Canada an international human rights laughing stock.

--Cut the Status of Women, which included major funding losses for the Sisters in Spirit Initiative that advocated for victims of violence at the Native Women's Association of Canada, their largest contribution agreement.

--Thrown out the Kelowna Accord, which, say what you will about it, was the first time the government actually asked Aboriginal people to be at the same table and collectively make decisions for ourselves.

--Done nothing to help our people protect our own land and has silently watched our leaders be thrown in jail, from the KI Six in Northern Ontario to Mohawk territory to the tar sands in Alberta, etc. Twenty per cent of inmates in Canada are Aboriginal, while we only make up roughly three per cent of the population."

*

The Federal government has also announced in its 2010 Federal budget cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation which affects 134 community projects across the country providing cultural healing services to Aboriginal people through projects that address the intergenerational impacts of the Canadian Indian Residential School System.

On March 29, 2010, six women staged a sit-in outside the Ottawa office of Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, protesting the funding cuts and the hypocrisy of a government that apologizes for the residential schools and then within two years withdraws funding for healing programs.

*

Regarding the issue of residential schools, the Québec Native Women's Association has called upon the Canadian government to acknowledge that residential schools were an act of genocide.

Quote: "The Canadian Government must acknowledge that Residential School was an act of genocide; a crime against humanity. Apologies may be recognized but they are not necessarily accompanied by forgiveness as no nation or groups have ever been forgiven for their acts of genocide.

In order for this apology to be considered genuine, more efforts must be undertaken to correct current oppressive measures under the Indian Act that prevent Indigenous peoples from prospering socially, culturally, politically and economically."

 

 

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