Finally An Apology: The Canadian Native Residential Schools Rant

Canada's Shame: Generations of Children Kidnapped and Brutalized In The Name of "Civilization" and "Christianity"

Yesterday was truly a great day for Canada. After years and years of waffling and procrastination, the federal government finally did what everyone knew had to be done: The Prime Minister, on the floor of the House of Commons, apologized to the Native People of Canada for the horrific and racist residential school system that this country ran for more than a century, a system that destroyed tens of thousands of lives. It's the single most shameful chapter in this country's recent history and an official apology simply had to be made. So, it's certainly not very often that you'll find me heaping praise on Stephen Harper, but today he most definitely deserves it.

It was an apology not only to the actual victims who attended the schools, but also to their children and grandchildren who had to live through the resulting cycles of violence and whose parents had no idea how to parent them after having been taken from their own families from such a young age. Furthermore, it was an apology to all Native people for a system that, for decades, taught them that their religion, their traditions, their culture and their languages were all primitive and worthy of little more than ridicule. In short, it was an apology for trying to teach generations of Natives to hate themselves.

I know that when interviewed on the news yesterday, immediately following Harper's speech, some Natives were saying that they didn't feel he sounded totally sincere, but I don't really think it matters how sincere he personally was in his heart. What matters is that the Prime Minister of Canada got up in Parliament and read a very sincere and full statement of apology from this country to its Native population. And it was about bloody time too!!

A Terrible Legacy

For all you non-Canadians out there, here's a little information about a part of Canada's past you've probably never heard anything about. The Residential School System involved removing all Native children in remote communities from their families and forcing them to live year-round at church-run residential schools hundreds of miles away from their homes. We're talking about children as young as four here, though the normal age was from six on up. This was not a voluntary program. In fact, from 1920 onwards attendance became compulsory by law for all children between ages 6 and 15. And families were threatened with prison if they failed to send their children willingly. Seriously!

For the remainder of their childhoods many of these kids only saw their parents for visits in the summers. Some didn't return home for years at a time. And due to an astonishingly high death rate from disease and other, often unexplained, causes, many never returned home at all. Speaking their native languages at these schools, in or out of class, was strictly prohibited, and those who defied this rule, even when they knew no other language, were beaten.

It was a forced program of assimilation. And believe me there was nothing good about it. Not even, as some claim, the intentions.

Kill The Indian In The Child

This despicable program, at least in its government-run form, had its origins in pre-Confederation Canada. The schools were originally only run by the churches. However, under a 1857 act known as the "Gradual Civilization Act" it started to become a government-sponsored program.

Yes, that's right, the "Gradual Civilization Act", but, if you ask me, it was White Canadians, not the Natives, who were in obvious need of civilizing. Forcibly taking kids from their families (a.k.a. kidnapping) is not part of any civilized behavior I know of, unless, of course, we're talking about Great Civilizations like the Third Reich or Pol Pot's Cambodia.

These kids were not only ripped away from the love, support and protection of their families, they were also taken from their proud culture, traditions and sense of identity. And the acknowledged, conscious intent of the whole program was to "kill the Indian in the child", which involved teaching these kids to hate everything about themselves and their own people.

"Civilizing the savages" of course meant forcing them to convert to Christianity. That is, brainwashing these little kids with fear, violence and intimidation. These weren't genuine conversions, since no one ever had the option to "choose Christianity". It was the ONLY option.

Empathy


Again, some may claim that the people running these schools had good intentions, but to that I simply say bullshit!! This whole program was based on racism, a scornful sense of superiority and an obvious feeling of repulsion about the fact that some of these "savages" still remained in "our country". Of course, like with the Nazis and Mao's Red Guards and Stalin's henchmen, there were, undoubtedly, some kind decent people among the ranks of the priests, nuns and administrators running these hell holes. However, the majority, at least according to all the anecdotal evidence, seemed to not only enjoy beating "the Indian out of the child", but also seemed to relish punishing those who dared to either resist indoctrination or, heaven help us, speak their own "savage" language. I'm not saying everyone enjoyed buggering the children, but I am pretty certain they all knew it was going on. How much blood on the sheets and clothes does it take till you figure that one out?

Amazingly, I've heard some people say that this whole issue is from way in the past and should just be forgotten, but, with approximately 80,000 living survivors still among us, not to mention all the pain and anger that lives on in future generations, that, it would seem to me, is a lot like telling Holocaust survivors that "It's all in the past, forget about it already!"

I'd say that all those who want this to simply be considered ancient history are seriously lacking in empathy. What I'd like to say to any such people is this: Imagine if your mom and dad had been raised without parents, beaten and tormented and raped. Or what about your kids?

Think about it, is there anything you can imagine worse than someone coming and taking your kids away from you and then only letting you see them once a year, or not at all for years at a time? Is there anything more heartbreaking? How about if your kids were taken someplace with no love, affection or kindness? Now think about your kids being molested. No, make that raped and/or sodomized. Not something you'd easily handle if it were your kids, right? Well, it happened to tens of thousands of other people's kids. Right here in Canada. I'd say that if you can't feel deep sorrow about that, then perhaps your heart is stone &*%$ing cold.

Twisted

There was an added twist to all this, of course. Imagine being one of those kids and trying to get your head around the fact that the people abusing you in the cruelest ways - physically, emotionally, sexually - are the exact same people who this supposedly-superior White culture looks up to as the most respect-worthy group of all: priests and nuns. Now that's not going to help you understand or want to belong to this twisted foreign culture, is it?

Physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse and degradation... and the perpetrators were members of the Church working under a federal government program. Meanwhile, your parents were far away and couldn't help you in any way. And if you complained you were labeled a liar and punished. It's a wonder everyone involved didn't simply go crazy... or just try to kill themselves. Which, of course, is exactly what some eventually did.

A Native woman we know told us how her older sister, while at a residential school on Vancouver Island, was forced, along with all the other students, to view the hanging body of a girl who had killed herself once she could no longer take it anymore. Besides the trauma of having to witness this horrible scene they were all also told that this dead friend of theirs was a sinner who was going to hell. Nice people these priests. Very civilized.

Guantanamo Bay a Club Med In Comparison

We're not talking about slavery in America here. Nor anything else from centuries past, we're talking about things - horrific, brutal things - that were going on right here in Canada within my lifetime, just a few short decades ago. In the 1960s and '70s.

We're also talking about a system that makes Guantanamo Bay look rather humane. Seriously. Think about it. Tortured, tormented people held against their will in prison-like conditions. As Harper himself said in his apology, "many were inadequately fed, clothed and housed". There was overcrowding, poor sanitation and a lack of medical care and extremely high death rates from tuberculosis and other illnesses. However, unlike those held at Guantanamo Bay, these were little children, guilty of no crime aside from their race. And, besides, how many of the so-called "detainees" at the gulag in Guantanamo have been repeatedly raped week after week, month after month, year after year?

My Own Personal Glimpse


I, myself, as a child, had a glimpse into some of the pain these kids must have gone through. Soon after my parents' separation, when I was just seven years old, I had to live with my aunt and uncle (not the nicest of people, to put it mildly) for one whole year. It was a horrible experience. However, unlike these Native kids in the residential schools, I got to see my mom every weekend. And still that year was traumatically lonely and painful. I can't even imagine what it would have been like not to see either of my parents even once for a full year (or years) at a time. Five days at a time separated from my mom over a year was torture enough. Ten years of that would have crushed my entire spirit and soul.

Churches Guilty As Hell, But Government Ultimately Responsible

In the end it's the Canadian government who set up and paid for this system whereby children were forcibly removed from their families and placed with a bunch of pedophiles. Of course the churches are to blame too and it seems most of them have been sincere in trying to make amends, though, amazingly, the Catholic Church alone has refused to issue a formal apology. Ultimately, however, it was the government's responsibility and, therefore, the entire country's. And that's why this official apology was so important.

So, I repeat, what a great day for all the people of Canada. And not just because of Harper's speech. Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, whose party was in power most of the time this whole criminal system was in operation, also issued an apology from the floor of the House of Commons, as did the NDP's Jack Layton, who choked up with emotion while delivering his. Finally, and very importantly, there were the speeches of Chief Phil Fontaine, head of the Assembly of First Nations, and other Native leaders, who were invited to reply to Harper's speech right in Parliament. It made for some rather moving moments.

Why the hell did it take so long for this apology to finally be issued? I have no idea. And was it perhaps forced on the government due to pending lawsuits? Maybe. But it's still a monumental event and, obviously, an extremely important step in the healing process. This apology, together with the previously-announced $2bn compensation package and the just-started Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is the beginning of the end of this sad, shameful chapter in our country's history. Let the healing begin.

Click here to read Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Statement of Apology to Parliament

Read More: CBC: PM cites 'sad chapter' in apology for residential schools

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Thursday, June 12th, 2008


For more political rants click here to visit the  Politics: Homepage

 

Or for a another rant specifically about Canada click here: The CBC Rant: Avi Lewis and The Canadian Media In The Never-Ending Black Era of Conrad

 

Or here: The Canadian Abandonment of Omar Khadr Rant

 

For a more humorous read check out The God Save The Queen Rant

 

And for a rant about American politics read this: The Obama Rave or The Audacity Of Hoping For The Obvious Choice

 

MikesAndDislikes Home

an apology, eh...

now, how about some actual justice? there are many perpetrators of rape, torture and murder at these 'schools' still alive today - why are we allowing ourselves to feel so proud of stephie uttering some well-crafted words of apology while behind the scenes church and state lawyers (lavishly paid with our tax dollars) are crossing all their t's and dotting their i's to ensure that NO ONE will do ANY jailtime for these hideous crimes and their legacy of destruction? what kind of people are we? part 2 of the mandate of the church+state run "independent" (only in Canada, you say...) Truth and Reconciliation Commission explicitly states that no names (of individuals or institutions) will be allowed to be named and that stories which allege criminal behaviour of any kind will not be recorded by the panel of commissioners, unless said names and crimes have already been proven in court (a mere handful at best - and all of these restricted to sexual "abuse"). do we remember the front page of the Globe&Mail April 24, 2007 - confirming an average 50% death rate, consistent over decades, in these 'schools'? are we aware that John Milloy, prof of Cdn Studies at Trent U, a researcher for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and appointed as part of a working group set up to provide information to the Truth and Rconciliation Commission on the children who went missing in the residential school system, how many died, where they were buried and what sort of investigative process will be required (a working group that since has quite faded from view) was quoted on Feb 14, 2008 in the Epoch Times confirming that: "deaths went unreported, children were buried three, four, five to a grave — every horror you could imagine took place." these are crimes by any definition, aimed at generations of innocent children, and we are paying through the nose to assist the perpetrators of these crimes in getting away with it all, scott-free, to die in peace as respected elders of our communities. shame on us.

you think ..

you think if there was a god .. you think he would be ashamed of his poeple .. the people who believe in god such as the catholics ...

Are Catholic Priests All Child Molestors?

I have been waiting petulantly, with folded arms, waiting for my free coffee cup from Mike's site, and hoped my hiatus of posting would force his hand. Like Bob Marley though, i dont want to wait in vain, so ill just steal one from the cupboard next year at his 48th year birthday party. While i dont think anyone with a heart or a mind could support the residential school system, its the perfuctory assumption that Catholic priests are evil bastards that i thnk is worthy of discussion. Of course being a Christian, i realize it's a foregone assumption that im a brainwashed superstitious imbecile, and that the presumed progressive intelligensia has a monopoly on truth that renders such discussion pointless, but what the hell. It was nice to see the provisio here that pointed out residential schools were a government policy. 'told that this dead friend of theirs was a sinner who was going to hell. Nice people these priests. Very civilized'. I have never yet had a priest, and i've met a few, tell me im going to hell, or even that im a sinner, though in the Christian paradigm, everyone is a sinner-which means, to fall short of the mark. There are two priests on the sunshine coast. one is father tom on the sechelt indian reserve, the other is father bede up in west sechelt. The self effacing, humility, self giving of these men to their communitys is awesome. Go see if you think im bullshitting you. My dad went to a residential school in ireland. they were dicplined sometimes harshly, but they were educated at a time when the state was incapable of doing so, and the aim of these priests was to send forth people who, since they wouldnt ever get jobs in ireland, would have good educations to help them when they went abroad. barefoot irish peasants learning latin and poetry. sechelt also had a residential school. some of the elders still go and visit sister trudeau in her old age home. former chief stan dixon went there to. he sometimes talks about it after mass on the band lands on sunday. and for some perspective... during my 6 years at high school here on the coast, 3 of our teachers were convicted of sexual misconduct, as were others throughout the coast. but im not going to say teachers are bastards cause they arent. neither are priests. also, the foster child program in b.c. has been accused of rampant abuse and missing children, but of course social workers are on the right side of the political divide so they are let be. now cough up my cup cowie. Dave R.

So, Dave, as a Catholic

So, Dave, as a Catholic how do you feel about the fact that your church is the only one that refuses to issue an official apology?

 

And, by the way, your dad was not stolen from his parents against his, and their, will. Nor was he taught to hate everything about his own people and their culture - not a very relevant comparison.

 

Oh and teachers are not forced, in contradiction to basic human nature, to be celibate. Again, not a very relevant comparison. The simple reality is that placing thousands of kids in the care of celibate men in isolated locations is hardly a wise idea. And, unless you're accusing all the victims of being liars, what happened simply happened, as you'd expect it would. Even if it were only 10 -20% of the priests involved, that's still a whole lot of abuse.

 

And, maybe you haven't heard, but Ireland has had hundreds come forward in recent years to tell their horrific stories of abuse at the hands of their local priests. And, as is well known with sexual abuse and sexual assault cases, for every one who comes forward there are dozens who are too scared, too tramatized and/or too ashamed to speak up. But I'm glad your dad was lucky enough not to be one of the victims. However, you shouldn't try to minimize and downplay the large-scale abuse that's been going on for centuries and, until very recently, was systematically covered up by the Church, as priests were moved around from parish to parish and allowed to continue their abuse throughout their lives. This is simply the well-documented historic reality.

 

But, as is clearly acknowledged by everyone, the abuse at the residential schools was done by members of all the churches involved, not just the Catholics. It's just that the Catholic Church alone cold-heartedly refuses to apologize.

     Mike

P.S. And you got my age all wrong. But since you were within a decade, you might get that mug one of these days after all.

residential schools and Catholics

There were certainly priests and nuns who did NOT abuse the kids, but the system within which they worked was totally abusive and disgusting. There is no way to rationalize the racism and smugness that gave rise to it; one can only apologize and vow never to do it again. One must also resolve to be a bit skeptical of one's own good intentions, since they are apparently culture-bound. Saying that you didn't mean to cause pain isn't the same as not causing the pain in the first place. Hillel had it right, 2100 years ago: What you would not want done to you, do not do to your neighbour. Simple, eh? btw, saying that priests and nuns did bad things does NOT let the lay people, politicians, clergy, and others who went along with the kill-the-Indian-spirit policies off the hook. These were national policies. Now we are swimming in sentimental bullshit about the noble savage. I don't trust it for a moment. What will it take for us white folks to treat aboriginals like huiman beings, in all our mixed glory and verminousness? Mike, have you got any T-shirts yet? Shot glasses? David