Canadian Hearings On Native Boarding School Abuse

Hundreds of First Nation members in Canada will testify this month regarding their experiences at government-funded boarding schools designed to assimilate Native children into Canadian culture and religion. Approximately 150,000 children attended the Church-run boarding schools, which operated until the 1970s.

Children of First Nations who were sent to the schools were separated from their families, forced to abandon their cultural identity, and many were physically and sexually abused. As part of a settlement with the Canadian government four years ago, a truth and reconciliation commission has been established to explore the abuses of this system and allow its victims to offer personal testimonials. The settlement also included an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and more than C$2billion in compensation for former schoolchildren and their families.

The hearings opened in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the first of seven sessions to be held across the country. Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Native singer-songwriter who took part in the commission's opening ceremonies, reflected on the impact the boarding school system had for First Nations. "It is just totally heartbreaking. The things that happened for generations of children, just removed from their homes. How can you say to a child, we're going to take away your parents, your sisters, your brothers your home - everything? You are going to be up for grabs for anyone who wants to do anything to you. And it was done."

Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair, the head of the commission, said the experiences of former students will no longer be relegated to the sidelines of Canadian history. "They will tell you something they have never told anyone before, it is the kind of truth that causes you to squirm. The truth eventually will heal us all."

Back To The Future? Canadian First Nation To Implement Land Allotment Policy

Flag of the Nisga'a Nation (University of Victoria)

In a break from long-standing land control policies, the Nisga’a First Nation in British Columbia is set to begin allotting property to its members, who can then mortgage, lease, or sell it – even to non-Nation members.

The new policy is part of an ongoing effort to improve the economic circumstances of the Nisga’a. After three years of study, the Nisga’a government has concluded that restrictions on private property ownership by its members has been a significant obstacle to financial growth. The new policy will provide Nisga’a members with freehold title to their homes, which they can then sell or mortgage as they please, and the policy may soon be extended to the Nation’s commercial and industrial properties.

This new policy from a First Nation in Canada will contrast sharply with policies among Tribal nations located within the United States. The property allotment policy implemented by the federal government during the 20th Century is generally viewed as having been an economic and social disaster for Native communities. The selling off of Tribal lands, typically at below-market value in order to obtain much needed cash, resulted in the “checkerboarding” of Native reservations and an alienation of Native peoples from their traditional homelands. Tribes also lost control of significant mineral wealth and water/mining rights due to the loss of ownership of their lands.  Most Tribes within the U.S. have spent the decades since the end of allotment trying to regain lost lands and return them to permanent Tribal status.