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U of M sorry for role in residential schools

President will speak at reconciliation event

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UNIVERSITY of Manitoba president David Barnard will apologize Thursday to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the university's role in educating people who ran the residential schools system.

The extraordinary statement in Halifax to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings is believed to be the first time a Canadian university has apologized for having a role in that dark chapter in the country's history.

"We want to add our voice to the apologies already made by churches and government," Barnard said Tuesday. "We have educated the people who became clergy and teachers and politicians and became involved in the system. I'm going to be making, on behalf of the university, a public statement of apology and reconciliation.

"This is an important thing for us to do as a university, and an appropriate place to do it," Barnard said.

He would not divulge the contents of his apology "out of respect for the process."

Barnard said he has consulted widely on campus with deans, senior administrators, the board of governors and the senate. He also has discussed the university's plan with Manitoba aboriginal leaders.

It was "an institutional decision" that required a lot of thought, Barnard said.

The proposal for an apology by the university first came from the faculty of social work, he said.

"It's been discussed with a group of people who helped develop the statement," Barnard said. "We've been working on the statement and where might be the best place to do it."

Residential school survivor Ray Mason applauded the move.

"I respect the fact that they're at least stepping up to the plate," he said. "It's good to hear it."

But Mason, who was taken from his home on the Peguis reserve when he was six years old, said the details are also important. Many survivors would want to know whether the government gave the university any marching orders, whether the curriculum encouraged students to view aboriginal people as savages and just how many graduates went on to serve in residential schools, he said.

He also said he is curious to see whether any other Canadian universities follow the U of M's lead.

Barnard would not discuss what the senior staff in faculties and departments whose predecessors trained people involved in residential schools had to say during the development of the apology. He was uncertain if any professor is still working on campus who taught any student later involved in running residential schools.

"We're focused on moving forward," he said.

It is especially important for the U of M's aboriginal students that the university issue the apology, Barnard said. Indigenous achievement is one of the university's top priorities, and the university hopes his statement will help move that reconciliation process forward, he said.

Barnard would not divulge any of the content of his statement, because he wants it to be heard first at the commission's national hearing in Halifax.

Barnard's statement will be delivered at 11:30 a.m. Winnipeg time Thursday, and will be broadcast on screens set up at both the U of M's Fort Garry and Bannatyne campuses.

The Halifax hearings are the third of seven national events being held by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is chaired by Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair.

The first national hearings were held in Winnipeg in June 2010, and the second in Inuvik this summer.

Further hearings will be held in B.C., Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Information about the commission can be found at


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2011 A3

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