[JURIST] Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper [profile] officially apologized [transcript; video] Wednesday for Canada's former Indian residential schools policy [CBC backgrounder], which was designed to aggressively assimilate aboriginal children. The school policy, which was in place from the 1870s to the 1970s, required aboriginal children to attend federally funded Christian boarding schools, communicate in only English or French, adopt the Canadian culture, and to sometimes endure neglect and abuse [advocacy backgrounder]. "The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly," Harper said. This was the first official apology, but the government began reconciliation efforts in 2001 when it established the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Resolution Sector [official website] to address former students' claims. In 2006 the government settled a class-action suit [Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement text, PDF], giving class members $10,000 CAD for the first school year plus $3,000 CAD for each additional school year. The Toronto Star has more.
The Settlement Agreement also includes funding for commemoration activities, measures to support healing, an independent assessment process for those who allege they suffered abuse, and the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission [official website] to educate the public about the residential schools policy and to promote understanding. In 2007 Harper announced the Specific Claims Action Plan [backgrounder; JURIST report] to establish a new independent tribunal to permanently resolve aboriginal tribes' existing disputes over land seized by the Canadian government. The plan is designed to make financial compensation more transparent, and would set aside approximately $250 million for 10 years to fund claim settlements.