Canada Day is upon us, yet this nation has little to celebrate as it wakes to the dark reality of residential schools. It is both a day of reckoning and a time to take stock of the values settler-Canadians have long held dear.
Just like countries in other times and places (as well as today) that have inflicted horrors upon their own inhabitants, successive powers here have done the same thing via state-sanctioned abduction of children. Their imprisonment—for that is what it was, in religious residential schools with enforced erasure of their native tongues and cultures at the hands of sadistic and oftentimes-perverted adults—resulted in life-long trauma in those children. That is, in the ones who survived. We’re now discovering many did not.
We have all heard and read of recently located unmarked graves. There will be more.
There have been abuses of all kinds inflicted upon Indigenous people who lived in this huge land for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers. Instead of sharing the country, the colonizers pushed the original inhabitants away, into inhospitable areas. They tried to stamp out what they saw as “the savage.” These settlers would not or could not see that they themselves were barbaric.
There is much healing and mending that needs to be done. Not that anything can repair the damage actually, and—as with any healing—scars will remain scorched on the psyches of surviving victims of those unspeakable schools. But the Indigenous communities deserve reparation and it should be now. Actually, it ought to have been decades ago, because governments knew what they were doing and did not even regulate the schools or the religious orders that ran them.
Those of us newly learning of these atrocities are at a loss as to what to do to help. May I suggest the following (and if you have any other ideas, please add them):
- Ask your local MP, at least once a year, for information as to the status of funding for The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Ask also why drinking water issues are still not resolved (we need to “sit on them,” because nothing ever seems to happen otherwise).
- Volunteer at an Indigenous non-profit or else donate to them. Here’s one: www.nafc.ca/en/friendship-centres/contact-information
- Support Indigenous musicians and artists, and buy books reflecting the residential school experience (library staff or booksellers can advise).
- Watch films and documentaries. I can personally recommend the movie Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese. It’s also in book form.
I cannot bring myself to say Happy Canada Day. Not right now. Maybe in some future year, if I see that our governments, both federal and provincial, are doing more than blowing hot air.
The walking wounded among us deserve our support, in words and deeds. Let’s show them we finally care.