The federal government will be repealing sections of the Indian Act that allow Indian residential schools to operate.
The announcement was made by Indian and Northern Affairs minister Chuck Strahl to applause and cheers at the first national event for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, held mid-June in Winnipeg.
“In parallel with our broader work on education reform, my government and I would like to propose to parliament that those sections of the Indian Act that allowed for the establishment of the Indian residential schools and the removal of children from their homes and communities be repealed,” said Strahl.
He said the government would work with Aboriginal organizations to make the necessary amendments to the act.
“The story of residential schools tells of an education policy gone so wrong , one that deprived too many Aboriginal children of their language and culture, exacted too high of a cost,” said Strahl.
The Gordon Residential School in Saskatchewan was the last to close its doors in 1996, but the sections of the act which allowed truant officers to remove Aboriginal children forcibly from their homes haven’t been used in decades.
Eight sections of the act, 114 to122, will be repealed.
The sections referring to residential schools require “Indian children” to attend school from ages six to 16. Children would only be excluded for specific reasons, including sickness or lack of accommodation at the school.
Section 119 outlines the appointment of truant officers and their authority to enter homes and remove children forcibly so they can be educated in schools run by the government, charitable organizations or churches. RCMP could be appointed truant officers.
According to section 119(6), “A truant officer may take into custody a child whom he believes on reasonable grounds to be absent from school contrary to this Act and may convey the child to school, using as much force as the circumstances require.”
The act also outlines that the parents’ Christian faith would dictate whether their children attended a protestant or Catholic run school.
In accordance to section 120(1), “Where the majority of the members of a band belong to one religious denomination, the school established on the reserve that has been set apart for the use and benefit of that band shall be taught by a teacher of that denomination.”
Special provisions could be made if the demand was high enough for the minority denomination of the members of the band.
In a news release issued by the federal government, Strahl said, “This is a long overdue gesture of reconciliation. I want to eliminate forever the portions of the Indian Act that caused such suffering among Aboriginal families. This gesture reinforces our government’s unwavering commitment to establish a new relationship with Aboriginal people.”
“It’s pretty premature to talk about any timeline because the government of Canada is only considering the ways to update the Indian Act. So we’re in that phase. We’re looking at how it’s going to be done,” said INAC media relations spokesperson Geneviève Guibert.