Posts tagged ‘Public Education’

An Attitude Adjustment Needed for Truth & Reconciliation



(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.

CBC’s 8th Fire Has It Right

Wab Kinew has it right.  In turn, I guess, so does CBC.  But is anyone (other than Aboriginal people) watching 8th Fire (CBC, Thursday at 9 p.m.)?

In my lifetime, I don’t recall seeing any other TV special that comes close.  This four-part documentary series explores first-hand First Nation, Métis and Inuit perspectives, all the while providing excellent public education on contemporary Aboriginal issues.

I recall back in the 90s, the much-heralded historical documentary series called 500 Nations.  But it was aimed at being a historical and anthropological anthology rather than taking on the “how’s” and “why’s” of contemporary Aboriginal issues.

I think what’s most compelling about Wab Kinew’s storytelling is that he’s speaking directly to the non-native viewer.

In episode three of the series, the Anishinaabe hip-hop artist and story-teller from the Ojibways of Onigaming paddles up in his canoe, slightly winded and speaks, not to me, but specifically to non-native Canadians.  He often speaks of the interactions between “your people” and “my people”.  Although he’s being honest, he is also quite disarming through his kind and respectful approach to the telling of our story.  His approach and personality really sells it and makes him quite believable for these messages that are so often taken quite sceptically.

While he is telling his story, I find myself nodding away to him, wiping the occasional tear away like I’m right beside him while he’s affirming my story.  As we watch the occasional friend and colleague on the screen, I know my partner and I have Wab’s back while he educates my neighbours about the truth of our people.

This type of documentary filmmaking is also quite consistent with our time-honoured traditional approach to storytelling.

Not so long ago, our people would gather in our Anishinaabe lodges for ceremonies and discussions among Chiefs, Clan leaders, Elders and teachers.  Following our ceremonies, there would be long talks led by our teachers about our history and many seasons gone by.  Those talks would be filled with references to the Spirit and to Gchi-Anishinaabeg (the old ones).  They would also be filled with emotion and rife with our core values of honesty and respect.  The many people gathered around the fire could be seen nodding, wiping away their own tears as they all hear their collective story.

Wab does this eloquently, using video, new media, music and a host of contributors, experts and guests.  The simple storyline makes the point well-organized and easy to understand.  It’s difficult to find to many holes in his narrative.

Personally, I feel Canadians need to see more of that.  Honesty and truth in the telling of our story, rather than hard-line, one-sided positions, “he-said, she-said” perspectives.  It certainly beats the tired political rhetoric we are accustomed to.  We also need to see much more public education targeting all Canadians.

I challenge you to take a look at any news story about Aboriginal issues on the web.  Whether it be about Attawapiskat, the Crown-First Nations Gathering, Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, or Tobacco issues. Check out any number of news sources: CBC, CTV, Globe and Mail, National Post, Sun Media, or even your local paper.  Turn your attention, please, to the interactive comments at the bottom of the page.

This is the place that “Mr. and Ms. Anonymous Canadian” can write to their heart’s content about their true feelings on Aboriginal issues.  These comments can be down right nasty.

But what strikes me most is how they are often simply ignorant, uninformed, and downright incorrect.

“When are First Nations going to start contributing to society instead of ripping off Canadian tax payers? It is obvious they can’t handle money as they have wasted all the tax dollars they were given and have nothing to show for it!”

“You know, that thing that First Nations are sorely lacking. Personal responsibility to pay taxes and become a contributor to society instead of a burden on society.”

“Get rid of the Indian Act, reserves and the chief system. Time they fended for themselves.”

“Does this mean they are prepared to work and pay taxes just like the non-aboriginal people?  I’m all for equality.”

Reminds me of this classic diddy from 1920:

“Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.” – Duncan Campbell-Scott, Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

All of these messages are rooted in prejudice and hatred.  However, the source of these messages can be traced back to certain special interest groups.  Many have such noble names like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality.  But it doesn’t change the fact that they regularly disseminate anti-Aboriginal propaganda and are regularly quoted in the media.  After years of unchallenged propaganda, Canadians now take these messages and corresponding media reports as fact.

It will take a lot of focussed effort, such as that presented in the 8th Fire, to change how Canadians feel about First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.  I feel the root of that change lies with public education.  As journalists, broadcasters, communicators and storytellers, our goal should be to slowly, patiently and systematically begin to change the public perception of First Nations people.  We need to replace our negative messages with positive ones.  We need to correct inaccuracies and challenge stereotypes.

We also need for all people to challenge racism and stand up for their fellow Canadians.  If it is unacceptable to say these comments aloud, it should be just as unacceptable to write them anonymously hiding behind the guise of free speech and freedom of expression.  Yes, you can say and write anything you want (within reason), but it doesn’t change the fact that it is wrong and hurtful.

It’s my hope that Mr. and Ms. Anonymous Canadian are watching the 8th Fire.  That they hear Wab Kinew’s brilliant storytelling and that a light goes off in their head.  We all need to challenge our own misconceptions and prejudices.  That change happens one person at a time.

G’chi-Miigwetch Wab and CBC for starting this conversation.  It’s up to all of us to carry on it’s message.