Posted by: Ian Ross | June 12, 2008

Saying ‘sorry’ does make a difference

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology to the Aboriginal community yesterday was a brilliant piece of communication to rebuild the rocky relationship between Natives and government.

He was apologizing for a government policy (1870s-1970s) that forced thousands of young Aboriginals to leave their families to be taught in residential boarding schools devoid of Native culture. Many of these youth were abused.

The intention of the apology was leaked nearly a week before – extending the coverage of the story. The speech delivered in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister was emotional and honest. And the National Post reports that the Prime Minister rewrote the majority of it – rejecting drafts provided by public servants and political staff – making his words seem more sincere. But more than anything else three words made a difference “I am sorry.”

Politicians and corporate heads have said these words before – sometimes they are blown off as spin or ‘what they were told to do.’ This time, the PM seems to have hit the mark.

Most of the aboriginal community is overjoyed by the apology.

And it also received highly positive coverage from the media. The National Post headline was “Native leaders praise apology” while the lead paragraph stated, “Aboriginal leaders hailed the Prime Minister’s apology for the residential school system yesterday as a turning point in the history of relations between natives and other Canadians.” 

 The Toronto Star reported, “”These are happy tears,” said Holly Danyluk, a James Bay Cree. The atmosphere among the many native families who had gathered on Parliament Hill was almost festive early in the afternoon, like a big family picnic. Old friends and family members reunited, pinched babies’ cheeks and shared cold drinks and ice cream. Music played in the background in the form of traditional drumming and chanting.”
 
The Victoria Times Colonist headline stated “Joy, hope greet apology” while the Montreal Gazette used “Apology is the first step to true reconciliation.”

 Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers an apology on residential schools while native leaders look on.

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Responses

  1. Feeling and expressing sorrow is not an apology. An apology demands work to correct a habit or event. I am sorry for being late is does not express my apologies for being late: the former expresses empathy and the latter expresses resolution and a responsibility.

    PR counsel should reflect the true requirement to garner public approval: to admit sorrow when sincere, to apologize when necessary.

    What I read from your post is that the PM did not trust his staff to get this right so “the Prime Minister rewrote the majority of it….”

    Legal departments are very concerned with the word apologize as an admission of culpability. That said, I have not read any Canadian press coverage so what goes along with the “sorry” to convert it to an apology I have no idea.

    I am sorry not to be more informed on this issue but I live in the Polish market.


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