Posts tagged ‘Truth and Reconciliation’

Premier Wynne issues apology over residential schools

A recording of the historic apology this morning in the Ontario Legislature.

An Attitude Adjustment Needed for Truth & Reconciliation

Res_Schools1005

 

(Warning:  This article contains harsh words about the truth of residential schools and abuse.)

Over the next week, social media, the press and the airwaves are going to be inundated with opinions about the state of indigenous society in Canada. To their credit, many people will be open and willing to accept the truth about the state’s official policy of assimilation, systemic racism and cultural genocide that has marked Canada’s historic treatment of indigenous peoples.

There will be many others, however, that will continue to deny the truth about Canadian history, provide their contrary opinions and continue to justify the need for further assimilation as a solution to Canada’s indigenous woes.

Many Canadians don’t realize that it was Canada’s founding father and first Prime Minister John A. McDonald that advocated a government policy of eliminating “the Indian problem”. His words, not mine. It was under his watch and these early days of Canada’s fiduciary duty, that the Indian Residential School policy began.

A fiduciary duty that was meant to protect Indian people, deal with us fairly, and look after our best interests.

Instead, it was the most vulnerable people that were targeted. It was the children that bore the brunt of Canada’s surreptitious and sadistic approach to eliminating Indian people.

Despite continuous evidence of deplorable conditions, malnutrition, health concerns and physical abuse and even deaths, Prime Minister MacDonald remained resolute in their approach to “killing the Indian in the child”. Again, his words, not mine.

That’s right, Sir John A. MacDonald.

Yet Canadians continue to revere the man. His portrait graces the halls of many a Canadian school. We are reminded of his face every time we break a $10 note.

It’s time for all Canadians to take steps to learn about their true history, not some romantic and noble account of glorious leaders past. We all need to learn more about the sad history of how Canada has treated indigenous people.

Canada’s history has a deep dark secret rooted in racist, ignorant and genocidal attitudes. Sadly, they were the prevalent attitudes of the day.

It was these attitudes that made it acceptable to forcibly remove First Nations children – young, innocent, little boys and girls taken from their parents, homes and families sometimes without notice or explanation.

It was these attitudes that led to their beautiful, long hair and braids being cut, being punished severely for speaking their only language or simply comforting their younger siblings.

It was these attitudes that led to having their meals taken away, privileges, belongings and gifts to be withheld or to simply go without.

It was these attitudes that required boys and girls as young as 6 years-old to do hard labour and endless domestic work in almost every residential school across Canada.

It was these attitudes that led young boys and girls to flee their captors, only to be lost or frozen in the snow, or punished severely after they were returned to Residential School.

It was these attitudes that led to young boys and girls having to line up to be molested, sodomized and violated in unspeakable ways. To line up for their turn at the trough of an insatiable clergy.

The sad reality is that a glimmer of these attitudes continues to exist in Canada.

It is these same attitudes that have led to a belittling of our legal rights, including Aboriginal Rights, Treaty Rights and Aboriginal Title to the land and resources.

It is these same attitudes that have led to an inexplicable plague of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, who continue to be preyed upon and ignored by an insensitive government refusing to lift a finger to address this crisis.

Want to see a good cross section of anti-Aboriginal sentiment? Just take a look at the comments section in any news or opinion article related to Aboriginal issues. Things that most Canadians wouldn’t dare say aloud if it applied to our Black, Muslim, Jewish or Asian brothers and sisters, stills seems to be fair game in criticism of Aboriginal people.

People comfortably advocate the taking away of indigenous legal rights, removal of First Nations people from their home communities, assimilation into Canadian society, or that somehow our Aboriginal and Treaty Rights are maligned and subservient to the common-law rights of all Canadians.

But truth is one thing. Reconciliation is something else entirely.

In a very comprehensive and transformative way, there needs to be a fundamental re-education and indoctrination of all Canadians about indigenous people and society, the history and impact of Indian Residential Schools and the concepts of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. Such a step is essential to the survival of indigenous nations, our cultures, rights and our importance in Canadian society.

Canadians have to want to see a vast improvement of social conditions in indigenous communities. Substantial steps need to be taken to addressing poverty and ensuring the safety of our families, women and children. This requires the empathy and leadership of all levels of government and all Canadians to work in partnership with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.

First Nations are beautiful, proud, self-governing nations, and have been so since long before the establishment of Canada. This must be set right. The sacred wampum tells us that our nations were to ride along in two canoes, flowing down a great river together, supporting one another through the trials, tribulations and challenges that arise along the way.

Only through a significant attitude adjustment, the recognition of truth, empathy and reparations, will true reconciliation be achieved. There is a lot of work ahead for all of us. It’s not just the role of indigenous governments and the Crown. There is a role of all of us, as Treaty partners, partners in reconciliation, and partners in Canada.

The Four Roots

It occurs to me that very few people have a true frame of reference of what it means to be Anishinaabe.

Certainly, I don’t.  For me, I was born in a small French-Canadian town.  Sure I lived on the reserve, but only a five minute drive from town.  We weren’t taught our ways of life or our language, despite both my parents being able to speak Anishinaabemowin.  I didn’t grow up thinking or living as an Anishinaabe inini.  Being Anishinaabe, for me took work, study and proactive choices.  Today, I’m proud to be Anishinaabe-inini.

Our brothers and sisters who live in the far north are a little closer to their roots.  Many still speak their language and practice their way of life.  However, their cultural and spiritual sense of identity has been obscured by Christianity.  Poverty and isolation also work against them.  As a result, addictions now run rampant in most small communities.

We may know what the problems are.  But why can’t we move beyond these challenges?

The answer is complex, but to me, it can be traced back to what I call the “Four Roots”.

Picture, if you will, a large noxious weed in your backyard.  It’s ugly, thorny and it gives off a bad odor.  You had some success getting rid of it last year but it keeps growing back.  You cut one, two, even three roots from the plant – but it continues to take hold generation-after-generation.

The Four Roots:

  • Multi-generation trauma; from systemic racism and residential schools.
  • Isolation from Canadian society;  Not just physical isolation, but social, cultural and economic as well.
  • Dependancy; mostly on the Crown
  • Most fundamentally, a serious Lack of Identity.  Many of our people struggle with having brown skin and a chronic inferiority complex.

Today, Deborah and I watched a film called The Life You Want.  It featured a young woman from Eebametoong First Nation battling her addition to prescription drugs.  Like many, she knew what the problem was.  She knew what she needed to do to overcome that problem.  She needed to take action.

Along the way she learned how to ask for help.

We have to ask ourselves some tough questions.  How can we move from trauma to healing?  How can I move from dependence to independence?  What does it mean for me to be Anishinaabe?

But we can’t wait for our Chiefs to answer these questions for us.  Nor can we wait for the government to do this for us.  We have to take action as individuals and as families.  Over time, the answers to these questions will enrich our Spirits and make us better people.  The answers may rescue some from additions.  The answers may even provide us with unknown opportunity.  Most of all, it will move us from victims to self-assured Anishinaabeg again.

In short, with a little faith in the Spirit, that’s what it means to be Anishinaabe.