On Campus

University of Manitoba apologizes for residential schools

Some are moved by the apology. Others ask questions.

The University of Manitoba’s President, David Barnard, has apologized for his institution’s indirect role in the residential schools that negatively impacted as many as 150,000 Aboriginal Canadians.

At a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in Halifax, Barnard said that the U of M made a “grave mistake” by educating people who perpetuated the assimilation of Aboriginal Canadians.

The apology brought some Aboriginal Canadians in the audience on Thursday to tears. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo, welcomed the words.

But some public relations experts and Native leaders questioned the motivations for the apology, because the University of Manitoba had no direct involvement in the residential schools.

Barnard responded on Thursday. “The university and other organizations in Canada stood by while this was happening, and we didn’t speak out against it early enough,” he told the National Post.

But why not apologize to other groups harmed indirectly by the inaction of the University? “It’s clear that this has been a significant, damaging, traumatic experience for people that are served by the University of Manitoba. This is something that has deep meaning to people in Winnipeg and in Manitoba,” he told the National Post, adding that it may help “bring more people to university.”

The University of Manitoba is already one of Canada’s biggest centres for Native Studies and drew more than 1,900 self-declared Aboriginal students to campus this year—more than most other schools.

Of course, the U of M isn’t the only university that’s working to make universities work better for Aboriginal Canadians. Read Ken MacQueen’s feature article Success, one student at at time in the 2011 Maclean’s University Rankings issue to find out what universities from Victoria to Nipissing are doing to help Native Canadians succeed. Pick up your copy on newsstands today.

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