In an address to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission today, University of Manitoba President and Vice-Chancellor David Barnard offered a statement of apology and reconciliation on the subject of the Indian Residential School System.
“We feel it’s important to stand with our Aboriginal students, staff and faculty in making this statement of reconciliation,” said Barnard. “Our best opportunity for a brighter future is to build a foundation of academic success and ensure that the values of First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures and communities infuse scholarship and research across the university.”
Barnard said while post-secondary institutions did not fund or operate Indian Residential Schools, the University of Manitoba failed to recognize and challenge the Indian Residential School system and damaging assimilation policies that were at the core of the system.
“We did not live up to our goals, our ideals, our hard-earned reputation or our mandate,” said Barnard. “Our institution failed to recognize or challenge the forced assimilation of Aboriginal peoples and the subsequent loss of their language, culture and traditions. That was a grave mistake. It is our responsibility. We are sorry.”
The president said the university also educated clergy, teachers and politicians who created and ran the residential school system.
Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and a University of Manitoba graduate, was also present in Halifax today.
“What we have witnessed here in Halifax today is the first time an institute of learning has publicly recognized its role in the Indian residential school system, and how much they deeply regret their role. However, the University of Manitoba is becoming a leader in Aboriginal education and has committed to further their efforts in order to ensure the success of Aboriginal graduates. This is great and welcomed news and I am pleased to have been a part of it,” said Fontaine.
Fontaine was a pivotal figure in the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was a result of the historical Indian Residential School settlement and subsequent apology delivered by the Government of Canada in 2008.
Manitoba Deputy Premier and Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson and AFN National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo also praised the University of Manitoba for this landmark statement.
“As a residential school survivor and a minister, I am inspired by the leadership taken by the University of Manitoba,” said Robinson.
“Reconciliation is about real change and it involves all of us,” said Atleo. “I commend the University of Manitoba for its participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Steps like this can help advance mutual respect and understanding between First Nations and other Canadians and generate the action needed to create lasting change.”
About 100 staff, students, elders and other members of the community packed Migizii Agamik at the Fort Garry campus to watch a live video feed of the president's statement of apology from Halifax. The live feed was also watched by many people on feeds at Bannatyne campus, William Norrie Centre, and the Faculty of Social Work in Thompson.