Monday, November 29, 1999

Indians abused at school tell their stories

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Thousands of Canadian Indians who were placed in state-funded Christian residential schools were expected to appear before a special study commission starting today to share their stories of abuse and forced cultural assimilation at the hands of school officials.Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair, the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools, said at the first of a series of public hearings today that the experiences of the former students will no longer be relegated to the sidelines of Canadian history."They will tell you something they have never told anyone before; it is the kind of truth that causes you to squirm," Sinclair said."They are coming here because they have something they need to say. This will be the first time they will speak of these things. It is about their truths."He added: "The truth eventually will heal us all."Sinclair spoke in Winnipeg, Manitoba, at the first of 7 public hearings taking place across the country.From the 19th century until the 1970s, about 1,50,000 Indians, Inuit and Metis children were forced to attend to some 130 residential schools across Canada in a painful attempt to rid them of their native cultures and languages and integrate them into a European-dominant Canadian society.The last school closed outside Regina, Saskatchewan, in 1996.About 85,000 former students are still alive.The federal government acknowledged 10 years ago that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools. Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages, as well as losing touch with their parents and customs.That legacy of abuse and isolation has been cited by Indian leaders as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations. Canada's more than 1 million natives remain among the country's poorest and most disadvantaged group."Our goal is to lay the groundwork that will help us to close the divide between aboriginal people and the rest of Canadians," said Sinclair."We will do that through the sharing of truths and understandings so there is a role for each of us. We all have a responsibility while this is occurring to make it happen."The commission was created as part of a USD 4.88 billion class action settlement in 2006 - the largest in Canadian history - between the government, churches and the 90,000 surviving students.

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