Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 2, November 2011

University of Manitoba President Apologizes for How Native Tribes Were Educated
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Aboriginal Student Centre, University of Manitoba

Manitoba: David Barnard is president of the University of Manitoba. Last month he became Canada's first university president to formally apologize for the Indian residential school system. 

The goals of these schools was to separate Native youth from their families and cultures, educate them, and assimilate them into white society.  While the University of Manitoba didn't run the schools, Barnard said that did not release them from responsibility. 

Barnard made his apology in an address to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Left to right: Garry Robson, elder; David Barnard, President and Vice-Chancellor; Deborah Young, Executive Lead, Aboriginal Achievement

“We feel it’s important to stand with our Aboriginal students, staff and faculty in making this statement of reconciliation,” said Barnard. “Our best opportunity for a brighter future is to build a foundation of academic success and ensure that the values of First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures and communities infuse scholarship and research across the university.”

Barnard said post-secondary institutions did not fund or operate Indian Residential Schools. However, the University of Manitoba failed to recognize and challenge the Indian Residential School System and its damaging policies.

“We did not live up to our goals, our ideals, our hard-earned reputation or our mandate,” said Barnard. “Our institution failed to recognize or challenge the forced assimilation of Aboriginal peoples and the subsequent loss of their language, culture and traditions. That was a grave mistake. It is our responsibility. We are sorry.”

The president said the university also educated clergy, teachers and politicians who created and ran the residential school system.

Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is a University of Manitoba graduate. He was present at the address.  

“What we have witnessed here in Halifax today is the first time an institute of learning has publicly recognized its role in the Indian residential school system, and how much they deeply regret their role. However, the University of Manitoba is becoming a leader in Aboriginal education and has committed to further their efforts in order to ensure the success of Aboriginal graduates. This is great and welcomed news and I am pleased to have been a part of it,” said Fontaine.

Fontaine helped form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008. It was a result of the historical Indian Residential School settlement and subsequent apology by the Canadian Government.

AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo and Manitoba Deputy Premier and Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson also praised the University for this landmark statement.

“As a residential school survivor and a minister, I am inspired by the leadership taken by the University of Manitoba,” said Robinson.

“Reconciliation is about real change and it involves all of us,” said Atleo. “I commend the University of Manitoba for its participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Steps like this can help advance mutual respect and understanding between First Nations and other Canadians and generate the action needed to create lasting change.”

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