Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oh Canada! Government apology to First Nations

On this day in 1534, French explorers under Jacques Cartier celebrate Canada's first Roman Catholic mass, at their camp of Brest on Labrador's coast. Who knew?!!

On this day, this year, the Canadian government is set to give a formal apology in House of Commons to the survivors of the residential schools. For those that don't know:

The residential schools were an extension of religious missionary work.
They started receiving federal support in 1874 as part of Canada's
campaign to assimilate aboriginals into Christian society by
obliterating their language, religion and culture. Well over 100,000
native children passed through the schools, most of which were closed in the mid-1970s. (read more here.)

The treatment of the original people is a disgraceful blot on the history of Canada. The effects of this attempt at cultural genocide echo down the generations to this day. The United Church of Canada has already issued an apology, but the native communities - and others interested in justice - have long lobbied for an official apology from Canada's government. Today, June 11, 2008, it seems they will have that.

There has been much written about this criminal attempt at assimilating the proud First Nations people of Canada into white society. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has many, many clips from news stories and documentaries that they produced. Even after the schools were closed, the effects "for those who were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse"(CBC) linger on. Read and watch some of their stories here.

The intent was to 'kill the Indian in the child', aboriginal leaders say. Cree students at the Lake La Ronge school in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, 1949. Bud Glunz/National Film Board of Canada/PA-134110 [more here]

The schools across Canada may haved been closed years ago, but the inherent racism against First Nations continued long after. Most recently, there has been an official enquiry into the death of native Frank Paul who was dumped in a back alley by police in Vancouver, where he died.

As has been documented in many places, this form of mistreatment of aboriginal people is not solely in Canada. Australia recently gave an official apology to their aborigines for past wrongs.
In Canada, there was an agreed financial settlement as some meagre compensation of the suffering inflicted, and now we have the federal government set to formally apologise today. It will be broadcast live on CBC radio.

Will this day be the closing of this shameful legacy? Hard to tell, but it IS a beginning. As of June 2nd, a Truth and reconciliation Commission is starting a five year mandate where they intend to travel the country to meet with all involved parties to give a voice to all those affected by these schools. Critics have called this whole process a sham.

Many families were forced apart, although some parents wanted their children to attend. Two Metis children standing either side of an Inuit child from the All Saints residential school in Shingle Point, Yukon, 1930. JF Moran/Library and Archives Canada/PA-102086

Only time will tell if the truth arising from this process will give real reconciliation. It is long overdue to herald a new era respecting the dignity of all our First Nations people.


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