These days I live in Nepal, where every once in a while a celebratory report appears in the news that a remote village has just been connected to the energy grid or road system. But it’s fairly rare to see such a headline in the media about Canada.
A senator apologist for Indian residential schools and a justice who bases a judgment on the devastating impact of those schools. It’s a good thing only one has decision-making powers.
Two Canadians in powerful positions with totally divergent views about the impact of residential schools on Indigenous Peoples: thankfully the one with the decision-making power has taken the time to understand the painful history, and legacy, of this atrocious system.
In January, Justice David Gibson of the Ontario Court of Justice wrote an insightful commentary on the history of Pikangikum, a First Nation community in northern Ontario.
Yesterday, 30 May, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne apologized for the treatment meted out to First Nations children in the province’s residential schools and for the racism that underpinned the schools system.
The Canada brand has been trending everywhere since the election of a Liberal government led by photogenic Justin Trudeau on Oct 19, 2015. This resurgence has featured Trudeau’s ‘bromance’ with US President Barack Obama and the prime minister’s declaration to the Paris climate summit in November that, “Canada is back” to assume its historical role as a nation that punches above its weight in engaging in global issues.
Now that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has scheduled the release of its final report, the real work must begin: getting all Canadians to recognise that the residential school system was only a symptom of how society in general mistreated aboriginal people historically, that the effects of that abuse are still being felt, and that it will take an effort by all of us to overcome them.
I was happy to see the TRC’s Chairman, Justice Murray Sinclair, say that he wants to kick-start a national debate on how to bridge the gap between aboriginal Canadians and the rest of us. One very public way to engage would be to participate in the Walk for Reconciliation in Ottawa on May 31. I hope to see you there!
“I lost my brother CJ at the residential school in Kenora,” says Achneepineskum. “His name was Charlie Wenjack. He was only 12.*
My life has been not as good as it should be… Love is something I don’t know. I don’t know what that is.”
It was lonely: all I wanted to do was go home. Getting beaten up, and picked on, and sexually abused … that was the stuff I wanted to run from.
I’ve got 4 children, 1 daughter and 3 sons … and I treat them as if they were in residential school – that’s all I know.”
*Charlie Wenjack’s body was found a week after he ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora. CBC Radio News did a special report on his death, and broader issues linked to it.
In March 2014, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission held its seventh and final national event concerning the residential school system. In the 19th and 20th centuries about 150,000 indigenous children were seized from their families by authorities and forced to attend such schools across Canada.