(March 9, 2017) – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde issued the following statement today in response to remarks by Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak expressing her positive views of the Indian residential schools:
“It’s disappointing that these misinformed attitudes still exist after all the work by First Nations and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring light to this dark chapter in Canada’s history.
“The residential schools were profoundly damaging to First Nations. Children were forcibly taken from their families and homes for the express purpose of trying to eradicate our languages and our identities. This was an attempt at genocide.
“Not only First Nations, but all of Canada is still dealing with the painful legacy, a pain profoundly compounded by the rampant abuse that took place in the schools. The Senator’s comments point to the need for much more public education and greater understanding of our shared history.
“We expect more of our government representatives. Truth is essential to reconciliation. And there is no better time than now, during Canada’s 150th, for all of us to commit to reconciliation in meaningful ways.”
For more than a century, over 150,000 First Nations children were taken from their homes and forced to attend residential schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report found that, along with rampant physical, sexual and mental abuse, about 6,000 children died while in care. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in the House of Commons for the residential schools, stating: “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.”