Robert L. Peters

19 June 2010

Apologies are in order…




Winnipeg, Canada

All this week, hundreds of Indian Residential School survivors, together with Aboriginal leaders, church groups, government representatives, and members of the public gathered locally at The Forks for the opening ceremonies of the first National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Former students and others whose lives have been fundamentally impacted by the residential schools system have come together to talk with each other and to share their experiences with the Commission. Included in those heart-wrenching conversations are the voices of former staff and other school workers who have been contacted and encouraged to come forward.

This national event (the first of seven to be held across Canada over the next five years), is of great importance for non-aboriginal Canadians who may have had nothing whatsoever to do with the schools directly, but who have everything to gain from understanding what actually happened at them. It has drawn together thousands to participate in cultural exhibitions by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit groups, film screenings, plays, art exhibits, and musical performances.

Word clouds: I thought it would be interesting to use Wordle as a tool to compare several different apologies (and the various vocabularies deployed) regarding Aboriginal survivors of residential schools.* Wordle gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in a selected source text. The top image represents the formal apology given in the House of Commons by the Canadian Prime Minister on behalf of the Government of Canada on 11 June 2008. The middle image represents the historic formal apology given to the Aboriginal people of Australia by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on behalf of its parliament and government on 12 February 2008. The bottom image represents the English version of the apology of the Anglican Church of Canada to Native People as delivered by the Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, to the National Native Convocation in Minaki, Ontario on 6 August 1993.

*Residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children. During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there are an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.

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