Canada promises full reconciliation with its Aboriginal people

Commission would speed up Indigenous reconciliation in Australia: Gooda

Canada will implement all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 recommendations, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda says a similar process would speed up Indigenous reconciliation in Australia.

Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to work towards full reconciliation with his country's Aboriginal people.

His commitment has marked the release of the final report of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission into abuses within government residential schools for Indigenous children.

And as Kristina Kukolja reports, an Australian Indigenous leader is calling for a similar process in Australia.

"The government of Canada sincerely apologises and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly."

With those words Justine Trudeau delivered his government's official response to the conclusions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada's capital, Ottawa.

The Commission's investigation, which took six years to complete, recorded the experiences of over 6,000 people in 300 Indigenous communities.

It spanned more than 100 years, extending into the 1990s.

The report presents cases of physical abuse, rape, malnutrition and other atrocities committed against children held against their will in church-run schools.

The Canadian government primarily funded those same schools.

The report also documents the deaths of over 3,000 children and young people in residential institutions, revealing many were buried in unmarked graves.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families.

The report says it was not to educate them, but mainly to break their link to their culture and identity and assimilate them into mainstream society.

The measures, it says, amounted to cultural genocide.

Addressing survivors and others gathered at the official presentation, Mr Trudeau said his government wants to reset the country's relationship with Indigenous Canadians.

"No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with First Nations, the Métis nation and Inuit peoples. Let me say it once again: I give you my word that we will renew and respect that relationship."

Mr Trudeau says his government will implement all of the Commission's 94 recommendations.

He has already acted on one by initiating an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Among the others are those concerning justice, health, language rights, employment and education, a major focal point of his pre-election campaign.

The Commission also wants legislation to establish a National Council for Reconciliation to ensure government accountability.

As well, the Commission is calling on the Pope to apologise for the Catholic Church's role in the abuse and to do it directly to those who survived, their families and their communities.

The national chief of the representative body The Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, addressed them at the presentation of the report.

"Those that are here with us today and the many that are not, I just want to say thank you for your courage. Thank you for standing up and speaking out, because each of you has experienced something that no one should ever have to endure. And, because of your courage, no one will ever again."

In 2008, former prime minister Stephen Harper had apologised to the survivors of the residential schools.

Millions of dollars were allocated for compensation claims.

But Canada's Aboriginals, who make up around 5 per cent of the population, still suffer from poverty, incarceration, violent crime, addiction and markedly lower life expectancy.

Commission chairman Justice Murray Sinclair, a Ojibway-Canadian judge, has told the Canadian news network CTV he hopes the government response marks the start of a new era.

"We're hoping that this government will turn the conversation around by showing leadership in terms of both the nation-to-nation relationship, which is important at a macro level, but also at an individual level by ensuring that people understand that reconciliation's important, that people have a right to their culture, have a right to their language and have a right to be supported in those wishes."

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda says a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would speed up Indigenous reconciliation in Australia.

He says Australia can learn from the Canadian process.

"The point would be that it would have to be meaningful, and you would have to have full disclosure of the sort of things that's happening. In my consultations up in Queensland around the Stolen Wages, a lot of people just want their stories told, how government stole their money, their wages, their social-security benefits. They did it institutionally, through the welfare fund. They empowered what we call protecters -- which were generally priests in particular towns -- to manage people's money. A lot of that has gone missing. So, they were complicit in that, and I think Australians are generally aghast when they hear those stories. And I think we could say, 'Well, how could we fix this?' And they can understand the issues that confront Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today better because they understand what happened."

Mick Gooda says only political will is missing for Australia to have its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"All of this depends on the government having the will to do it. So, it gets back to, 'What are we prepared to wear here?' And I think part of us moving forward is going to be an acknowledgement that those things happened."



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