Canada forcibly removed around 150 000 Indian children from their families and communties beginning in the late 19th Century untill the late 1970s.
The children were sent to government-funded residential schools run by Christian churches.
The purpose of residential schools was to "kill the Indian in the child" and, thereby, forcibly integrate Indian childen into settler Canadian society.
Now, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper is about to formally apologize for a century of abuses at these government administered residential schools (some schools operated into the 1990s).
Interestingly, the churches who were in charge of these residential schools issued apologies in the 1980s and 1990s.
The apologies came after several expensive lawsuits were filed against the churches.
The BBC has compiled an informative report on the timing and context of this latest apology by a settler society to its Aboriginal people.
According to the report, Mike Cachagee was taken to a residential school when he was just 4 and "stripped of his language, religion and culture," and he "was physically and sexually abused."
When Cachagee's mother saw him after 12 years she "did not recognise him."
Commenting on the purpose of the apology Cachagee said:
"To apologise for taking me away from my family, for losing my culture and the loss of my childhood and the loss of my mother's love ... How does one apologise for that?"I have written here before about the political nature of state crafted apologies. My argument has questioned the validity, and sincerity, of the recent apology in Australia (February 2008), for example.
My thinking has hardly changed. What stands out for me is that the notion of an apology is more valuable to the settler state and society, than it is a matter of real redress.
Saying sorry may be an important milestone in terms of historical recognition, but it is far from a comprehensive tool for telling the truth about occupation and its outcomes.
Apologies more often than not gloss over the greatest abuse of occupation, that is, genocide.
What is needed is a larger confrontation of occupation that goes far beyond the political interests of the settler state. But, by definition, how likely is such a confrontation?
In Australia the Rudd government issued an apology that is characterized by the interest to move on. The apology essentially appropriated Aboriginal suffering to ostensibly allay, in my view, settler guilt.
Reparations and repair, the stuff of real confrontation and a means toward possible settlement, was refused.
In Canada the government has pledged C$2 billion to Indians in what is known as the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Some 86,000 surviving students can claim a redress payment of C$10,000 plus C$3,000 for each year they spent in residential schools.
The Aboriginal Health Foundation, a truth and reconciliation programme, will be funded out of the C$2 billion.
The leader of the Assembly of First Nations, Chief Phil Fontaine, is a former residential student who has criticized the Canadian government for not consulting him or other Indian leaders about the wording of the apology.
These leaders complain that they have been shut out of the apology process and that they feel disrespected.
Chuck Strahl, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, denies that Indian leaders have been shut out of the process. He is instead hopeful that the apology will bring "renewed hope, faith, mutual respect and trust."
I am sure that some Indians will agree that this is a good and productive step in the right direction. Be that as it may, a better step would be to address the structural condition of Indians in Canada beyond residential schools.
Otherwise, an apology will always be too late and too little, and mostly, a tool of settler interests and a mere political token.
What won't change in Canada is the fact that Indians are the poorest of all and that they suffer the worst overall living conditions.
Sadly, the condition of genocide, like in Australia, will continue.
Picture Credits: BBC Additional news article: ABC