Wynne apologizes for ‘brutalities’ of Ontario residential schools

Ontario will spend $250 million over three years to help understand the legacy of residential schools

(Photograph by Cole Garside)

(Photograph by Cole Garside)

TORONTO – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne apologized to First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities on Monday for the “brutalities” suffered at residential schools, calling it one of the most “shameful chapters” in Canada’s history.

“I apologize for the province’s silence in the face of abuses and deaths at residential schools,” Wynne said at the Ontario legislature as residential school survivors looked on.

“And I apologize for the fact that the residential schools are only one example of systemic, intergenerational injustices inflicted upon indigenous communities.”

The formal apology was part of Ontario’s response to the 2015 report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which found that thousands of children were physically and sexually abused at residential schools, and more than 300 died.

There were 18 residential schools for indigenous children in Ontario, starting in 1832. The last one didn’t close until 1991.

“The residential school system set out to ‘take the Indian out of the child’ by removing indigenous children from their homes and systematically stripping them of their languages, cultures laws and rights,” she said.

“By adopting policies designed to eradicate your cultures and extinguish your rightful claims, previous generations set in motion a force so destructive that its impact continues to reverberate in our time.”

Regional Chief Isadore Day talked spoke of the “unspeakable abuse” suffered by residential school survivors and its impact on their children and grandchildren.

“The vast majority of us as First Nations people across this land can speak of the direct impacts of this dark legacy,” he said. “Yes, many of us have lived in the direct darkness and shadows of the evil that was so evident in so many of those schools.”

Andrew Wesley, a residential school survivor, said it took a long time before he could speak about his pain, and even longer before his wife convinced him that he had to embrace reconciliation.

“I was taken away. I was beaten up, but I didn’t do anything wrong. Why should I reconcile to the government and to the church,” asked Wesley.

“But, because of my wife and her strength, I started to understand what reconciliation is all about. And I started to understand more that I have to talk about the abuse and be able to release the pain that I was carrying.”

Wesley got a standing ovation for his emotional plea to work together to heal the wounds of the past.

“We’re telling you the truth because we’re tired of being hurt,” he said.

“When a hunter is about to go out and get food for his family, the night before he goes out, he speaks to the game that he’s going to bring home to ask for forgiveness. From that mountain, we were given the power to honour the people that abused us, because we want to live a good life.”

Helen Cromarty of Thunder Bay, Ont., spent 11 years in two residential schools starting at age 5. She said the apology was welcome, but added that many First Nations communities still struggle with deep poverty and high suicide rates.

“Having the government apologize and acknowledge the damage that has been done, I feel a little reprieve. I can live with it,” Cromarty said in an interview. “The things that I heard today, they’re very good. It was very emotional for me.”

Margaret Froh, president of the Metis Nation of Ontario, said reconciliation remains an elusive goal.

“Full reconciliation means recognition of our rights as a self-determining people, self-government for Metis or First Nations or Inuit people, and we’re a long way off from that,” she said.

“I think the critical piece is that we’re talking with each other and working to understand each other.”

Day said the apology would help “let the healing begin,” but warned too many indigenous people are still living — and dying — in poverty.

“The deepness of poverty that continues to kill our people, this is not right,” he said. “Our ancestors did not envision these present horrors when they agreed to share the wealth of this land.”

Ontario will spend $250 million over three years to help understand the legacy of residential schools, teach students “the truth about our shared history” and to create what Wynne called a culturally relevant and responsible justice system.

The province will also change the name of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs to the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

The Truth and Reconciliation commission issued 94 recommendations, including reducing the number of aboriginal children in foster care and granting police greater independence to investigate crimes where government may be an interested party.


Wynne apologizes for ‘brutalities’ of Ontario residential schools

  1. Just a little confused here by Wynne: so she acknowledges their culture is being stripped away, and rather than dealing with their ongoing state of health emergency (mercury poisoning), which is a basic minimal requirement to live to see the next day, we are being visionaries of the future because we are going to empower them with culture laws so that we can put on the appearance of not being patronizing and patriarchal?

    Thank you for the article, but only because I’ve had “my head up my ass” on current affairs.

    • And thanks, Lespaul, for that phrase — I didn’t know it had a specific meaning. I thought you were only being vile 5.5 months ago (sorry).

  2. I’m not sure why Ont is doing this, as natives are a federal matter……..but I’m glad things finally seem to be moving.

    • Sure … that’s a convenient excuse, not representative of the history of how things worked out: for a start land use and land allocation has long been a provincial responsibility; the reason that the federal government is substantially responsible is that provincial governments, lead by the example of Ontario, dumped that on the federal government. However, the important thing is that aboriginal people living in Ontario are Ontarians so all Ontarians should care and if anything be on the federal government’s case to live up to their responsibility. The beginnings of residential schools in Ontario come from the colonialist aspirations of WASP immigrants who wanted to be an aristocracy in need of a serving class for which native Canadians among others filled a bill, consequently, they were banned from normalized education and streamed into residential schools with the best students being banned from higher education and placed in trade schools; looking at the history of residential schools in Ontario, it is rare to find any connection between them and the federal government. Worse, there are cases of native run schools that equaled or bettered common schools that were forcefully replaced by residential schools in part due to a religious war between Christian denominations (as one Anglican bishop remarked ‘save the Indians from the jaws of those vipers’, the vipers being Methodists), partly jealousy, and partly because a ‘classic’ education was unnecessary for the social class Indians were supposed to occupy.
      We can’t all look away from a car crash that ‘we’ as a corporate entity caused.

  3. As usual, talk a good talk: talk is cheap. We non-natives should appreciate that native peoples are likely not impressed given our long history of failed promises. Sa

  4. As usual, talk a good talk: talk is cheap. We non-natives should appreciate that native peoples are likely not impressed given our long history of failed promises. Sadly, residential schools have simply morphed into residential schools mark II. A large portion of native children must leave home in order to obtain a high school education while available education in their home community is underfunded and under-resourced. The current arrangement where native schools are deprived of the normal resources of regional school boards and provincial ministries of education, as much or more than money, is a serious problem: it should be clear that provincial authorities, being responsible for education of the majority of children, have the greatest expertise in managing the education of children. In some cases, the feds have off-loaded educational responsibilities to public or Catholic boards although bussing is not an educational measure that many appreciate.
    In my day, post residential school practice resulted in native students who had been given a substandard French Catholic education, nominally but not actually up to grade 10, were bussed 80 minutes to our English language public high school – seemingly the best anyone could come up with (not even any ESL support). Many years later, the beat goes on.
    When I was in University, Grassy Narrows was in the news; now I’m semi-retired and Grassy Narrows is in the news: what the heck! The province maintains that natural abatement will do the trick – how many generations does it take to admit it hasn’t worked? Hopefully, not as long as it took to realize that residential schools weren’t working.

    Considering demographics, native Canadians are the only cohort that is increasing, consequently increasingly the youngest among an aging population, while current immigration numbers are insufficient to ensure population growth or, more importantly, growth of the work force. As my son once said ‘wake up and smell the coffee burning!’.

  5. apologies…to living persons who are still experiencing this brutality…but now in ontario…it is EVERY SCHOOL…the same molesters and brutal descendants of the uncharged and unstopped predators had children who are molesting day and night in ALL SCHOOLS NOW…and ALL CHILDREN…in ontario……so the legacy of the lewdness and perversions of the ontario people will not be quenched…and remains its ongoing history..with Sodom at the helm the molestations continue now with police, firemen, teachers and politicians all descendants of the residential abusers…molesting day and night without any kind of stopping..canada is no place for children, babies, mothers, fathers..it is a desolate shameful place of fornicators who the global community flocked to and still flock to to molest unrelentingly…even as this is read..canadas perverts…had children and they continue this and there are more of them

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