Premier Rachel Notley delivered an emotional apology for Alberta’s failure to take action against the residential school system on Monday and joined a growing call for a public inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women.
The announcement came nearly three weeks after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that almost a century of abuses at residential schools funded by the Canadian government amounted to “cultural genocide.”
“We were shocked and at times rendered speechless as we learned of the First Nation, Métis and Inuit children forcibly removed from their homes,” Ms. Notley said in the Alberta legislature.
“Although the province of Alberta did not establish this system, members of this chamber did not take a stand against it. For this silence, we apologize.”
An estimated 12,000 survivors of the residential school system live in Alberta. The commission’s report detailed the loneliness and sustained abuse of thousands of young students who were forcibly separated from their families. More than 6,000 died in the system. The report also made 94 recommendations to begin healing the relationship with Canada’s First Nations.
In response, the Premier called for a “fundamental shift” in the relationship between Alberta and its First Nations.
“In the journey of reconciliation you no longer have to walk alone,” she said to residential school survivors who were gathered in the gallery of the legislature. “Your truth has woken our conscience and our sense of justice.”
Bernice Martial, the grand chief of the Treaty Six First Nations in central Alberta and Saskatchewan, said she was awed to sit with residential school survivors while Ms. Notley issued her apology.
“It was overwhelming, especially when you are going to announce something like this, it overpowers you at times,” she said. “But it makes me feel so good in my heart.”
Ms. Martial said her community near Cold Lake is planning to erect a memorial to students forced into residential schools. She said she was thankful that Ms. Notley was able to move on the commission’s report before the legislature’s summer break.
The Premier also called for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. With Ms. Notley’s announcement, all 10 of Canada’s sitting provincial premiers have made similar requests.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has so far rejected calls for an inquiry, saying that authorities are already taking the proper steps to combat the issue and a further inquiry is not necessary.
In 2008, Mr. Harper issued an apology for residential schools and said at the time that the abuses inflicted by the system helped contribute to lasting social problems in First Nations communities.
According to an RCMP report, 206 of Canada’s 1,017 female aboriginal homicides between 1980 and 2012 were in Alberta. The report also noted that 28 per cent of Alberta’s female homicides between 1980 and 2012 involved indigenous women.
“I want the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women to come out of the shadows and be viewed with compassion and understanding in the clear light of day,” Ms. Notley said. “The silence that once was, has long since passed. We will not fail these women. Not this time. Now is the time for their voices to be heard.”
Opposition Leader Brian Jean of the Wildrose Party called on the provincial government to do a better job of educating First Nations youth and chided Ms. Notley for not proposing to take immediate action within the province’s area of jurisdiction.
“Hopefully in the future we will see provincial action, rather than a speech calling for action from the federal government,” he said.
On Sunday, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced that the provincial curriculum would now require teaching students about the legacy of residential schools and the province’s practice of removing aboriginal children from their families and placing them in non-aboriginal homes. The B.C. government will also be adding more aboriginal culture and history to its school curriculum.
Ms. Notley’s call for an inquiry reverses the Alberta government’s position on the issue. Former premier Jim Prentice had said he did not support a public inquiry. A former federal aboriginal affairs minister under Mr. Harper, Mr. Prentice echoed the Prime Minister by stating the provincial and federal governments already had enough information on the issue and could move ahead.
“I am not convinced an inquiry is what we need to do,” he said soon after taking office in September.Report Typo/Error