For nearly 160 years in Ontario, 18 residential schools subjected native children to brutal practices aimed at eliminating their culture. Today, with chiefs and residential schools survivors looking on, Premier Kathleen Wynne apologized on behalf of past Ontario leaders who failed Canada’s indigenous people.
“I apologize for the province’s silence in the face of abuses and deaths at residential schools. And I apologize for the fact that the residential schools are only one example of systemic, intergenerational injustices inflicted upon indigenous communities throughout Canada.”
Aboriginal children, some as young as five, were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools.
“I lost my culture, my sense of self identity, my home, personal and historical loses.”
Wynne acknowledged that an apology alone isn’t going to end the suffering of thousands of aboriginals in Ontario, so she introduced a new initiative that aims to fix this broken relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
The premier is backing up this initiative with $250 million in spending. Money for education, community led justice programs, and for promoting Indigenous culture.
“We will educate all Ontarians about the horrors of the residential school system, the betrayals of past governments and our rights and responsibilities as treaty people.”
And that has Ontario’s First Nations people feeling optimistic about the future.
“You can never ever put a price tag on the issues, the lives lost and those who aren’t with us today, but certainly it’s a gesture a step to move forward. We now have a prime minister who’s said those same words and is putting action behind those words and it has filtered down to the province that’s also looking for reconciliation, so I feel there’s a real opportunity to move forward and accomplish some things.”
And helping Ontario move forward from one of the most shameful chapters in its past.
Many agree that the premier’s apology and announced initiatives are a step in the right direction, but for those who survived residential schools, it may never be enough.
“It’s so hard to explain. Cause some days were good, a lot of days were bad.”
John Elliot fought back tears telling us about his days at the Mohawk Institute.
“They liked to abuse you I think”
One time John says he skipped church and as a result he’s now deaf in one ear.
“He caught me and slapped me. It bled. They took me to Hamilton General.”
John is just one of about 150 000 aboriginals who were forced to attend residential schools across the country, where many were abused and mistreated.
The Mohawk Institute was actually the first residential school in Canada and for 138 years it stripped young aboriginal children of their culture and forced them to assimilate.
John says he tried to run away at least once every year and after he was caught was locked in a small closet. Once John said he was inside for three days.
“I was tough so I got through it.”
He says others got it much worse. He talks about one priest who sexually assaulted young girls.
“He bothered a lot of young girls because he knew they were vunerable. They didn’t have families.”
It’s difficult to imagine what it was like for John and all the other children. The road to reconciliation will be a long one.
They may never be able to pay them back, or give enough so they can move on, but people have to try.
“It’s a step forward, but I just don’t think there’s anything that will take that away.”
“I don’t whether it will ever be enough..”
What John really wants to see is more places survivors can go to get support.