AFTER decades of foot-dragging, Canada is about to take a look at what one aboriginal leader calls “the single most disgraceful, harmful and racist act in our history.”
From the 1870s to the 1970s, about 150,000 native Indian children were forcibly taken from their parents and sent to distant residential schools, where many say they were abused mentally, physically and sexually.
Conditions in the schools — run by churches on behalf of the government — were sometimes dire. Accounts suggest up to half the children in some institutions died of tuberculosis.
One prominent academic calls what happened a genocide, yet for many years few Canadians knew of it.
As part of a C$1.9 billion (€1.3bn) settlement between Ottawa and the 90,000 school survivors in May 2006, that ended years of law suits, a truth and reconciliation commission is set to start work on June 1.
The commission will travel across Canada and hold public hearings on the abuses.
“You have to get the truth out ... it’s real, it happened,” said federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl.
Native leaders hope the commission — to be headed by aboriginal Judge Harry LaForme — will help improve ties between the one million native population and the rest of the 32 million people in Canada.
“I don’t say this is going to be a magic wand and everybody is going to feel good when this is over. But we do know there is a healing component to that sort of process,” LaForme said.
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