This week, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to aboriginal people for mistreatment inflicted by his nation’s policies and actions.
In January 1998, Canada’s then-Indian Affairs minister Jane Stewart issued a statement of reconciliation — widely billed as this nation’s apology — in response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
Friday, an astute reader noted the difference in tone and content between the two apologies.
We offer both for the sake of comparison.
Rudd’s statement of apology:
“Today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment.
“We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations — this blemished chapter in our nation’s history. The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
“We apologize for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologize especially for the removal of aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
“For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
“To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
“And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
“We the parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered, as part of the healing of the nation.
“For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
“We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
“A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.”
“As aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians seek to move forward together in a process of renewal, it is essential that we deal with the legacies of the past affecting the aboriginal peoples of Canada, including the First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Our purpose is not to rewrite history but, rather, to learn from our past and to find ways to deal with the negative impacts that certain historical decisions continue to have in our society today.
“The ancestors of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples lived on this continent long before explorers from other continents first came to North America. For thousands of years before this country was founded, they enjoyed their own forms of government. Diverse, vibrant aboriginal nations had ways of life rooted in fundamental values concerning their relationships to the Creator, the environment, and each other, in the role of elders as the living memory of their ancestors, and in their responsibilities as custodians of the lands, waters and resources of their homelands.
“The assistance and spiritual values of the aboriginal peoples who welcomed the newcomers to this continent too often have been forgotten. The contributions made by all aboriginal peoples to Canada’s development, and the contributions that they continue to make to our society today, have not been properly acknowledged. The government today, on behalf of all Canadians, acknowledges those contributions.
“Sadly, our history with respect to the treatment of aboriginal people is not something in which we can take pride. Attitudes of racial and cultural superiority led to a suppression of aboriginal culture and values.
“As a country, we are burdened by past actions that resulted in weakening the identity of aboriginal peoples, suppressing their languages and cultures, and outlawing spiritual practices. We must recognize the impact of these actions on the once self-sustaining nations that were disaggregated, disrupted, limited or even destroyed by the dispossession of traditional territory, by the relocation of aboriginal people, and by some provisions of the Indian Act.
“We must acknowledge that the result of these actions was the erosion of the political, economic and social systems of aboriginal people and nations.
“Against the backdrop of these historical legacies, it is a remarkable tribute to the strength and endurance of aboriginal people that they have maintained their historic diversity and identity.
“Canada today formally expresses to all aboriginal people in Canada our profound regret for past actions of the federal government, which have contributed to these difficult pages in the history of our relationship together.
“One aspect of our relationship with aboriginal people over this period that requires particular attention is the Residential School system.
“This system separated many children from their families and communities and prevented them from speaking their own languages and from learning about their heritage and cultures. In the worst cases, it left legacies of personal pain and distress that continue to reverberate in aboriginal communities to this day. Tragically, some children were the victims of physical and sexual abuse.
“Canada acknowledges the role it played in the development and administration of these schools. Particularly to those individuals who experienced the tragedy of sexual and physical abuse at residential schools, and who have carried this burden believing that in some way they must be responsible, we wish to emphasize that what you experienced was not your fault and should never have happened. To those of you who suffered this tragedy at residential schools, we are deeply sorry.
“In dealing with the legacies of the Residential School system, the government proposes to work with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, the churches and other interested parties to resolve the longstanding issues that must be addressed. We need to work together on a healing strategy to assist individuals and communities in dealing with the consequences of this sad era of our history.
“No attempt at reconciliation with aboriginal people can be complete without reference to the sad events culminating in the death of Métis leader Louis Riel. These events cannot be undone; however, we can and will continue to look for ways of affirming the contributions of Métis people in Canada and of reflecting Louis Riel’s proper place in Canada’s history.
“Reconciliation is an ongoing process. In renewing our partnership, we must ensure that the mistakes, which marked our past relationship, are not repeated. Canada recognizes that policies that sought to assimilate aboriginal people, women and men, were not the way to build a strong country. We must instead continue to find ways in which aboriginal people can participate fully in the economic, political, cultural and social life of Canada in a manner that preserves and enhances the collective identities of aboriginal communities, and allows them to evolve and flourish in the future. Working together to achieve our shared goals will benefit all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.”
It bears noting that, following Stewart’s remarks in 1998, acting Australian Prime Minister Tim Fischer said his nation had no intention of following “Canada’s lead” in apologizing to its aboriginal people.
Also, in October’s throne speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised a truth and reconciliation commission would probe Canada’s aboriginal schools. He also promised an apology to aboriginal people. (RM)