Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society provides grassroots leadership and an inclusive process, with a voice for all community members, to ensure that our community grows and develops in a way that incorporates an environmental ethic, offers a range of housing and transportation choices, encourages a vibrant and cultural life and supports sustainable, meaningful employment and business opportunities.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Truth –Telling: Painful and Essential Work

Truth -Telling: Painful and Essential Work

 by Rev. Yme Woensdregt

In 1879, the Government of Canada recommended that Residential Schools be established as a cost effective way of assimilating First Nations children. Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A MacDonald, wrote, “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

Thus began a shameful episode in our history. The first school opened four years later in Saskatchewan, with others following quickly.

Jump ahead 130 years. In 2007, Parliament passed the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, providing compensation for former students of the schools and their families, and establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with a mandate to “inform all Canadians of what happened in Indian Residential Schools” and to “guide and inspire Aboriginal peoples and Canadians in a process of reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect.”

On June 2, 2015 the TRC presented its final report after six years of work. They listened to the hard and painful stories of survivors of the Indian Residential Schools, which spoke of physical, sexual, emotional, cultural and psychological abuse.

Children at age five were taken from their homes, moved to a school far away and forbidden to speak their language or practice their culture. Whenever they spoke their language, students had their mouths washed out with soap. They were told that they were inferior, that they were no good, that they were an affront to the Creator. The purpose of the schools was, in the words of one survivor’s story, “to beat the Indian out of us and make us good little white people.”

One woman tells the story of arriving at the school and having her long beautiful braids, which represented her spirituality and her essence, cut off and thrown into the garbage. Another says that his relationship with his mother was forever damaged because she couldn’t tell him why she allowed him to be taken to the school.

There are stories about students who became alcoholics and other who committed suicide because they could no longer deal with the abuse they suffered at the schools.

Some of these stories can be found They break my heart. We see the residue of the agony of these survivors in their faces; we hear the pain in their voices. They are telling the truth: the truth about our society, our prejudices, our shameful behavior towards those who are different than us.

The opening sentences of the Final Report of the TRC set the stage for the damning report. “For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as ‘cultural genocide."

Many people believe that “I didn’t do anything; it’s not my fault! It was way before my time!” I have heard that sentiment too many times.

Trouble is, it’s not the truth. Our society did this. The TRC Report reminds us that this is not an aboriginal problem; it’s a Canadian problem. Those of us who are not aboriginal have all benefitted from the shameful treatment of First Nations people.

If we are to move forward, we must take responsibility for our past. The TRC Report gives us all a chance to do the right thing—to reach out to one another, apologize for our shameful past, and move into a new future marked by reconciliation and hope.

This moment in our history is a gift. We are being invited to invest ourselves in a new future marked by reconciliation and compassion, by an acceptance of the fact that our differences are not something to be wiped out, but to be celebrated and embraced.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Yme. Now that many more Canadians know what happened in the residential schools and to the parents of the children, we must act to reconcile what has taken place in my lifetime.