The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Canadian Natives Win £1Bn for 70 Years of Missionary Abuse

From David Charter in Washington
Times Online
November 25, 2005

Canada announced yesterday that it will pay Can$2 billion (£1 billion) to former pupils of government boarding schools that were set up to “Christianise” the children of native Indians but which are blamed for decades of physical and emotional abuse.

About 80,000 Canadian aborigines will qualify for a share of the biggest pay-out in the country’s history, which marks a fresh attempt by the Government to atone for systematically trying to strip native children of their language and culture over a period of 70 years.

Native leaders said that the money should be just the first step towards redressing a national tragedy that had left generations spiritually bereft and fuelled deep and continuing social problems.

Canada’s 700,000-strong indigenous communities, known as the First Nations, suffer epidemic rates of alcoholism, drug addiction and sexual abuse.

Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said: “Today marks the first step towards closure on a terrible, tragic legacy for the thousands of First Nations individuals who suffered physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.” Mr Fontaine, who attended a residential school in Manitoba, has worked for years to secure compensation.

Most of the 130 schools closed in the 1970s and many survivors are now of pensionable age, while others died without seeing any compensation for alleged beatings and rape.

Mr Fontaine added: “This settlement package will contribute to the journey on the path to healing — not only for all residential school survivors, but for their children and grandchildren. For they too, have suffered the effects of this abuse.”

Under the system set up at the start of the last century, native children were often sent hundreds of miles away to the remote residential schools. In an attempt to assimilate Canada’s First Nations into mainstream society, they were forcibly separated from their families and forbidden from speaking their language.

About 15,000 former pupils had brought legal claims against the Government and the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches that ran the schools. These claims must be dropped as part of the the deal.

It includes Can$60 million for a truth and reconciliation commission to promote awareness of what happened. The churches will contribute.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he hoped the package would bring a “just and lasting solution”.

Irwin Cotler, the Justice Minister, said the abuse was “the single most disgraceful, racist and harmful act” in Canadian history.

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