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“We must, together as a nation, face the truth to ensure that
we never have to apologize to another generation, that the tragedy of forced
assimilation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada never happens again,” he said.
Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, offered an
apology on behalf of his own party and said the best apologies are followed by
“Think about a little village, a small community from which all
children are taken away,” he said. “And from then on there are no more children
between seven and 16 years of age who played in the forest. You do not hear
their laughs, their joy, warming the hearts of the elders.”
Statements from aboriginal leaders followed the politicians’
apologies. Fontaine, dressed in full Ojibwa regalia, said the apology marks a
new relationship between Canada and its aboriginal people. His voice broke at
times as he delivered his response.
“This day testifies to nothing less than the achievement of the
impossible,” he said. “The attempts to erase our identities hurt us deeply, but
it also hurt all Canadians and impoverished the character of this nation. …It
is possible to end our racial nightmare together.”
While the viewers at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre welcomed
Fontaine with heavy applause, it was Beverley Jacobs of the Native Women’s
Association of Canada who drew the most enthusiastic response.
She was thankful for the apology, but was curious to know what
will come next for aboriginal peoples in Canada.
“I didn’t see any other governments before today come forward
and apologize, so I do thank you for that,” she said. “But in return, the
Native Women’s Association wants respect.”
Viewers at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre cheered and applauded
as she spoke.
Ian Campbell, a hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation, then
led the centre in three traditional songs: first was a “snowbird song” to
honour loved ones who have already died; second was a “warrior song” to honour
loved ones working to heal and survive the past; and then a “canoe song” to
honour loved ones of future generations.
Chief Gibby Jacob then said that the apology marks a point from
which survivors of residential schools, along with their families and
communities, need to move on.