Prime Minister to apologise

June 11, 2008

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Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper is due to deliver a formal apology today to the thousands of Aboriginal Canadians who passed through the country's residential school system.

The widespread physical, psychological and sexual abuse committed in the schools has left a legacy of psychological damage whose consequences profoundly affect many Aboriginal Canadians today.

From the middle of the 19th Century to the 1970s, tens of thousands of Indian, Inuit and Metis children lived and studied in the schools, often hundreds of miles from their own communities. Although funded by the state, most of the schools were administered by the Church.

Children were commonly beaten for speaking their own language; the extensive physical and sexual abuse, however, has only come to light in recent decades.

The government has set aside US$ 1.7 billion to compensate the victims of the schools system, and established the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which started work this month.

Canada's national Indian organisation, the Assembly of First Nations, describes the apology as 'a momentous occasion that will represent an important milestone in the healing and reconciliation process for survivors, our families and our communities.'