Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

27 November, 2013


Sweeping societal issues under the carpet has never once contributed to the resolution of those issues.  For years I have been talking to myself in advocating the need for citizens, and that means all of us, to take ownership of the sins of current and past Canadian generations.  I'm talking specifically about racial discrimination in all its various, ugly forms.  There just seems to be a general reluctance to express sorrow and to deal with the truth in the name of reconciliation.

I've talked about racial discrimination against our Black neighbours in small town Ontario when I was growing up, injustices experienced by Japanese Canadians during World War 11, mistreatment of British Home Children at the turn of the 20th Century and the disgraceful abuse of Canadian Indian children in residential schools over a 100-year period -- all cases where there has been a general hesitance by Canadians to take ownership, let alone acknowledge the wrong-doing of past generations.

There have been times when I was labelled a trouble-maker for stirring up the past in my writings.

Keith Randall is a writer, broadcaster and an elder at the Presbyterian Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in Montreal. He lives in Laval.  His personal revelation deserves wider circulation because his thinking at one time was typical, I think, of many Canadians today.  This is what he has to say.

Sometimes the light goes on. It happened one day not long ago while discussing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (a coalition of government and church representatives) hearings in Montreal.

“You know,” I said, “I have Indian friends and I’m pretty sympathetic to the tough times they’re having in some places, but I don’t understand all this guilt about residential schools. It was years ago. I didn’t have anything to do with it. I wasn’t there. What’s this got to do with me?”

“I notice that you stand proud on Remembrance Day,” my friend replied. “You applaud when the vets march by, sometimes with a tear in your eye. You weren’t there for the world wars or Korea, either.”  That’s when the light went on. Residential schools are part of my history, too, along with Vimy Ridge and the Holland liberation. A dark chapter, to be sure, but a thread of my Canadian heritage that I’ve failed to see in our country’s rich tapestry.

Although missionaries had established residential schools for aboriginal children as long ago as 1620, the concept really took hold with Confederation. In the 1876 Indian Act, Ottawa assumed control of aboriginal “governments, economy, religion, land, education, and even their personal lives,” Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners write in their powerful and depressing book "They Came for the Children." John A. Macdonald added to the loose network of church-run off-reserve schools. “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents,” he said in 1883. “He is simply a savage who can read and write.”

Churches seeking to save souls were eager partners. In 1879 Toronto journalist Nicholas Flood Davin cited two reasons for a formal partnership with them in a report to the federal government. Residential schools, he hoped, would turn children into reliable citizens, their aboriginal faith replaced by a better one — Christianity — and motivated missionaries could be hired more cheaply than qualified teachers.

This was not just a reflection of the Dark Ages of the 19th century; it carried into the “modern” era. In 1920, the Indian Affairs Department’s deputy minister Duncan Campbell Scott wrote that the government would “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.”  One hundred and forty one residential schools have been recognized by the TRC, and others await judicial rulings. In the last decades of the 20th century, government and churches began to recognize both the ineffectiveness and the injustice of a system that had endured for seven generations, robbing 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children of their culture, heritage and families. Untold numbers were mistreated physically, psychologically and sexually, leaving them in a cycle of abuse and addiction. Early research suggests that at least 3,000 lie in unidentified graves near the former schools.

Were there dedicated teachers who worked diligently within a flawed, underfunded system and warned of impending disaster? Of course. Were there aboriginal children who survived unscathed and went on to lives fulfilled? Yes, again. Aren’t there examples of child abuse in other Canadian institutions? Indeed there are, but none within a system under the formal sanction of the government and participating churches.

In 2008, the government and the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches settled the largest Canadian class action suit of its kind, an agreement that created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC is mandated to record the history and impact of residential schools, promote public awareness through national and local events, and to foster sharing and healing between aboriginal peoples and the rest of us.

The fifth of seven major national events was held at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel earlier this year. Highlights included a Sacred Fire in Place du Canada burning throughout the four days, an education day for local students, films, a variety show and a series of often heartbreaking testimonies by residential school survivors either publicly or in confidence before the commissioners and in listening areas established by the churches.

We have recently read startling, depressing and often puzzling headlines about protests and blockades, treaty claims, resources, reserve management and political grandstanding. This TRC event offered us a unique opportunity to begin learning about just one element of the complex maze of issues rooted deep in our past that will play out in our future to a conclusion that’s still very much uncertain.
NOTE DROM DICK: Although the subsequent apologies and acknowledgements made by the federal government and churches are important steps forward in the healing process, Aboriginal leaders have said that such gestures are not enough without supportive action. Communities and residential school survivor societies are undertaking healing initiatives, both traditional and non-traditional, and providing opportunities for survivors to talk about their experiences and move forward to heal and to create a positive future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

I still think that similar apologies to our black friends who suffered denial of rights and blatant racial discrimination in the last century are very much in order and long overdue, but that's another story that I will not reserect at this time. Been there and done that!

While we have much in Canada for which to be proud, we also have a lot of unfortunate history to reconcile -- even though we were "not there at the time."  We must never forget that it is OUR history and that it is irresponsible to disassociate ourselves from it, or to conveniently sweep it under the carpet.

It is all about dealing with inequities in life and righting wrongs of the past...And never letting them happen again.

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