“We have given thanks to you for your apology. I have to also give you credit for standing up. I did not see any other governments before today come forward and apologize, so I do thank you for that. But in return, the Native Women’s Association wants respect.” | photo courtesy of the Native Women’s Association of Canada
I come here speaking from my heart
by June 12, 2008|
On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the leaders of Canada’s opposition parties apologized to former students of Indian residential schools. Breaking from “usual practices” in the House of Commons, all parties unanimously consented to having representatives of the communities affected by the government’s residential school policy make statements in response to the ministerial statement of apology to former students of Indian residential schools.
The first residential schools were opened when Canada was still a colony in the 19th century. Once the country gained independence, these schools were under the control of the Department of Indian Affairs. Native children had to attend. The last school closed in 1996 – the same year that the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples issued its final, damning, report.
The following is the Hansard text of what was said by Beverley Jacobs, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, on the historic day.
[Ms. Jacobs spoke in Mohawk language]
What I said in my Mohawk language is, “Greetings of peace to you.” My nation is Mohawk of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Bear Clan, and my real name is Gowehgyuseh, which means “She is visiting.”
I am here to represent the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the women that we represent have a statement. It is about the respect of aboriginal women in this country.
Prior to the residential schools system, prior to colonization, the women in our communities were very well respected and honoured for the role that they have in our communities as being the life givers, being the caretakers of the spirit that we bring to mother earth. We have been given those responsibilities to look after our children and to bring that spirit into this physical world.
Residential schools caused so much harm to that respect and to that honour. There were ceremonies for young men and for young women that were taken away for generations in residential schools. Now we have our language still, we have our ceremonies, we have our elders, and we have to revitalize those ceremonies and the respect for our people not only within Canadian society but even within our own peoples.
I want to say that I come here speaking from my heart, because two generations ago, my grandmother, being a Mohawk woman, was beaten, sexually beaten and physically beaten, for being a Mohawk woman. She did not pass that on. She did not pass it on to my mother and her siblings, and so that matriarchal system that we have was directly affected. Luckily, I was raised in a community where it has been revitalized by all of our mothers.
I want to say that as mothers, we teach our boys and our girls, our men and our women equally. That is what I am here to say, that although it may be the Native Women’s Association, we also represent men and women because that is our responsibility. It is not just about women’s issues, it is about making sure that we have strong nations again. That is what I am here to say.
We have given thanks to you for your apology. I have to also give you credit for standing up. I did not see any other governments before today come forward and apologize, so I do thank you for that. But in return, the Native Women’s Association wants respect.
I have just one last thing to say. To all of the leaders of the Liberals, the Bloc and NDP, thank you, as well, for your words because now it is about our responsibilities today, the decisions that we make today and how they will affect seven generations from now.
My ancestors did the same seven generations ago and they tried hard to fight against you because they knew what was happening. They knew what was coming, but we have had so much impact from colonization and that is what we are dealing with today.
Women have taken the brunt of it all.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here at this moment in time to talk about those realities that we are dealing with today.
What is it that this government is going to do in the future to help our people? Because we are dealing with major human rights violations that have occurred to many generations: my language, my culture and my spirituality. I know that I want to transfer those to my children and my grandchildren, and their children, and so on.
What is going to be provided? That is my question. I know that is the question from all of us. That is what we would like to continue to work on, in partnership.
Nia:wen. Thank you.
statements in the House of Commons | June 11, 2008
posted on section15.ca
- for this we are sorry, by STEPHEN HARPER
- a present haunted by this tragic and painful heritage, by STÉPHANE DION
- picture a small village, a small community, now picture all of its children, gone, by GILLES DUCEPPE
- this apology must not be an end; it must be a beginning, by JACK LAYTON
- the irresistibility of speaking truth to power, by PHIL FONTAINE
- the humane, moral and right thing, by PATRICK BRAZEAU
- a new day has dawned, by MARY SIMON
- the Métis Nation wants in, by CLEM CHARTIER
- I come here speaking from my heart, by BEVERLEY JACOBS