It was standing room only at Chief Joe Mathias Centre in North Vancouver yesterday, as roughly 1,500 people gathered to watch a live broadcast of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology to residential school survivors.
The historic formal apology was made in the House of Commons for the treatment of students in the defunct federal residential school system, where many children were abused, neglected and stripped of their cultural identity.
“This policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” Harper said.
“The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.”
In North Vancouver, residential school survivors in the audience were applauded by the crowd. Many people took pictures with cameras and camera phones.
Florence Mathias Joe, who went to a residential school in Sechelt in the early 1970s, broke down in tears during the broadcast in North Vancouver.
She and two siblings were taken away from their father when their mother died.
“We survived,” she said, while being comforted by her sisters.
Speakers said they welcomed the apology, adding that while it doesn’t heal the wounds, it’s an important step toward reconciliation.
Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob said the day is just as much about the future as it was about the past.
“I was afraid that (the apology) … would pale in comparison to the effects of the policies of the previous government,” he said.
“We need to move on. If we don’t quit victimizing ourselves, the effects that were felt will continue.”
Shawn Atleo, with the B.C. Assembly Of First Nations, said the apology will help survivors in their “journeys toward healing.”
“Tomorrow, all Canadians will work together to turn this heavy page of our dark history,” he said.