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14 September, 2012

TRUTH AND RECONCILLIATION AT A COST

This is a story you won't read in your daily newspaper or see on television.  It deserves wider coverage.  The Canadian public needs to be aware.
For some First Nations people, memories bring back the reality of life...A life that was taken away from them in order to impose a new way of living.

Last weekend, Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) held two days of Truth and Reconciliation ... "Minjimendaamin" or "We Will Remember". The weekend was part of a national healing to recognize the sad legacy of residential schools throughout Canada.

Every red ribbon seen here represents a
residential school child of Saugeen and
Cape Crocker First Nations.

In the 1800s, the Canadian government thought it best that the country's aboriginal peoples be educated and assimilated into the European way of life and established schools that would do that by completely abolishing everything "native" in the children.  An aggressive assimilation program saw government agents remove children, aged four to 16, from their homes and taken to the new boarding schools.

Although federally operated by the Department of Indian Affairs, the schools were given over to churches for supervision. All native children were forced to attend.  They were given no choice.   In the beginning, approximately 1,100 students attended 69 schools but, by 1931, there were 80 schools in Canada and then, finally there were approximately 130.

Almost 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were eventually taken from their homes.  Many experienced severe physical and sexual abuse. They were also forced to speak either English or French and, if caught speaking their first language they would be severely punished.  The children of residential schools lived away from home for 10 months of the year in below standard living conditions and, once they returned home, they no longer spoke their native language or understood family ways.

Siblings from the same family would be separated from each other by gender and students often became ashamed of their native heritage. Saugeen First Nations had 90 children removed by the government and taken to schools on the north shore of Lake Huron and to Manitoba. Some returned home, some did not -- they died at school. On Saturday, red ribbons for those children removed from Saugeen and Cape Croker homes were tied on cedar trees that will be planted in their memory.

The government has, over the years, worked with the Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches to design a plan to compensate the former students with a formal $1.9 billion compensation package being established.  As of April of this year, there were 75,800 cases with $1.55 billion paid out.

Acceptance of the CEP payment automatically releases the government and churches from any future liability relating to the residential schools, except in cases of severe sexual or physical abuse.  The two-day SON event featured many moving moments, including "honour drumming" and survivor stories by those brave enough to recount them.

Unfortunately, many survivors of residential schools still cannot talk about their experiences, let alone come out publicly to make an application for compensation.  In the end, what would the money buy them anyway and how long would it last?  Regretfully, no amount of money can ever buy back 
what was taken away.

Sad but true, I am convinced that the ill-advised government of the day actually thought that it was doing the right thing and what was in the best interests of the native children.  Lessons were learned the costly way. 

Talk about man's inhumanity to man...There has been far too much of it in the history of our country.  We certainly have nothing to be smug about as we continue to live and learn.
 
With thanks to the Saugeen Times

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