The Truth and Reconciliation walkers from Cochrane passed through our area last week on their way to Ottawa to participate in the closing events of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. The picture in the local newspaper awakened me to the whole event.
Justice Murray made his report today on the “legacy” of residential schools as part of the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
The report in the National Post made me weep.
I have always felt so proud of being a Canadian: of our role in WW1 and WW2; of our sending peace keeping troops into war- torn parts of the world; of our health care system; of our record of being a clean and safe country. I have always held my head high and thought we were one of the best nations in the world.
But this report has made me hang my head in shame.
All last week while I was reading Nelson Mandela’s The Long Walk to Freedom, my heart ached for the suffering that the South Africans endured under apartheid. I cheered on their fight for freedom and justice. Then I went to my book club and learned that the Africaaners came to Canada to study how we had managed to take the land from the aboriginals. In the light of this report, it makes sense that they would do so.
Why is it that all these years I preferred to believe that we had done the best by the natives and that they just had not “evolved” sufficiently to take advantage of what we, the superior, modern society had to offer? Why was I so unwilling to learn how sexual abuse of a child can cause him or her to turn to alcohol and drugs and even prostitution? Why was it that I could see the Africans as suffering individuals but turned a cold heart to our own aboriginals?
Pride. Ignorance. Superficiality.
Coincidentally, just yesterday I started re-reading Richard Waganese”s book, Indian Horse. In it, the speaker is in a rehab clinic and is asked to tell his story as a way to heal. The first few chapters tell how his sister was taken by the government and they never saw her again. Then his brother is taken. Ben runs back to them but dies of tuberculosis. They come for the speaker, Saul, just after his eighth birthday. He watches as three of his colleagues are punished so severely that they die and are placed in unmarked graves. Because he speaks English and loves to study, he is befriended by a priest who teaches him to skate and gets him into a hockey league where he shines. But he is never at home in his skin. He turns to drink and drugs. He can’t keep a relationship alive. Only at the end of the book when he returns to the school site do we learn that this “wonderful priest friend” sexually abused him for years and he felt too hopeless to stop it or ask for help. A brutal tale and one that is much more credible given this report.
I feel very strongly that we Canadians must find a way to validate the suffering we imposed in the name of religion and a superior culture. We must strive to right some of the injustices we have inflicted. Perhaps we can look at South Africa and see how our reserve system parallels apartheid and make our native people equal members of our society?