(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.