Thursday, June 12, 2008

Stephen Harper's Apology

Stephen Harper apologized to natives this week for their longstanding treatment by Canada's Federal Government - particularly the creation of residential schools so that native children would be taken away for their education, often sponsored by churches (including mine - the United Church of Canada ... a rare blot on their human rights record).

Stephen Harper acknowledged that a sad element of the purpose of these schools was to "Kill the Indian in the child". As a teacher, and particularly as a teacher at a very culturally mixed and diverse school, I can't even begin to say how harmful that type of 'white-ification' is in itself, even at the best of times, with the best intentions. When you add into the mix the abusive corporal punishment employed, even for such infractions as speaking one's own native language when these children didn't know English or French, as well as longstanding allegations of sexual abuse, it creates an absolute toxic environment which has left the native community, and their relations with the rest of the country, terribly scarred.

While I am ashamed of my church's history in this regard, they were the first church in Canada to apologize for this on the record, in 1988. Twenty years later, a Conservative government does so on behalf of all the governments which preceded it. The Native community was gracious in its acceptance, even though it was a matter of discord up until the 11th hour whether First Nations leaders would be allowed into the House of Commons to formally respond to PM Harper's apology. Between that, and a Conservative Cabinet Minister's comments questioning the money provided to natives, and how it is being spent, the Prime Minister's apology - in itself not enough, and way to late, even if sincere - rings hollow. While the right thing to do, I certainly hope Mr. Harper backs it up with action, recompense, and better-faith negotation with native communities over land claims and other myriad issues going forward.

We are one Canada, a community defined by our many differences and diversities, and in spite of - or maybe because of - those differences, we've always done a better job, even in our 'mosaic' society, of being a fairly congenial society than our 'melting pot' neighbours to the south. The treatment of our natives is a serious blight on our record, and I hope we are now prepared to move forward with healing that should have begun ages ago, for a problem which never should have begun in the first place. Kinana'skomitina'wa'w. Ki'htwa'm ka-wa'p(a)mit(i)na'n.

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