Thursday June 11, 2009
I didn’t know, did you know? I didn’t know that last year Stephen Harper formally apologized to the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people of Canada for their Residential School Experience that was imposed on them.
Here are some facts every Canadian should know (I didn’t until recently):
- approximately 250,000 kids were forced by law to go to residential schools in Canada, starting in 1850
- these were kids age 6 – 15
- the intent was explicit: “To kill the indian in the child”
- it is estimated that a minimum of 35% and maybe as many as 60% of these children died within five years of being sent to the school, possibly as genocide
- by all accounts, the schools were replete with abuse beyond the primary abuse of forbidding use of their language, breaking up families, forcing christianity on them, cutting their hair (a shaming event)
I ask you: If your children were stolen from you, and you were helpless to prevent it; if you knew they were being brutalized in a school far, far away (returning home with broken bones, and many times never coming home at all – they had died); if you knew that they were being converted to a foreign religion, were not allowed to speak your language, were having your culture beaten out of them, would you not be wild with grief? Enraged? Humiliated? Suicidal? Turn to alcohol?
So years later, the churches and the Gov’t have apologized and have set up a fund of $1.9 Billion.
We all know, of course, that the money and the apologies, while deeply symbolic and important, don’t heal. And they don’t reconcile – well, not much.
How does an entire population recover and heal?
How can families become healthy, when generation after generation were not parented, but sent en masse to abusive schools?
How can meaning in life be recovered when languages – those purveyors of meaning and entirely unique worldviews – are all but extinct?
How can self-esteem reinfuse a population that has been so broken?
How does a government ever regain credibility?
I am sure the Peoples who lived and loved here will find their way to healing and fullness of life – indeed, many already are.
For my part, all I can say is how deeply I value and esteem the culture and thoughtfulness and spirituality and connectedness to the land of my fellow Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit citizens who share their traditional territory with me.
And, on a personal note, along with my church and my government, I too say: I am so, so sorry. And I am so grateful for your presence in my life – it makes my life richer and more worthwhile.
ps: this gets at the spirit of it although some of the lyrics aren’t quite right: