Tuesday, 19 March 2013

"We Were Children" Residential Schools in Canada



Last Tuesday evening, Doris, Lori and I attended the showing of the film documentary "We Were Children" about Canada's residential schools. Words fail, and yet words are essential, because the stories must be told. Truth must be told. I'm not going to get the facts here. I'm not good at facts. However, truth being told, many, many thousands (150,000+) of our children were taken from their homes in First Nations communities across the breadth and depth of our fair land. Or, should I say, their fair land? The children were placed by our government in residential schools run by the churches (RC, Anglican, United, Presbyterian) where many were abused physically, emotionally and sexually. Their languages and culture were beaten out of them. Most did not return to their communities until the age of 18, having been removed as early as 4 or 5. Many died and their bodies lie in unmarked graves. All this for 'the good of the Indian' who needed to be assimilated into 'mainstream' Canadian culture. Rather, folks, to rid the government of the 'Indian problem.'

Mmmm... let it be said (because some will say this, so I'll get it out of the way right off) that some children benefitted from the system. Some received a good education and went on to 'bigger and better things' than they might have otherwise. And let it be said that not all teachers, missionaries, administrators were evil and abusive. OK - that's said. Done. Finished.

Nothing - absolutely nothing - not even hundreds of 'success' stories could justify the abuse of one child, never mind the many, many thousands. It's heart-breaking, soul-destroying horror. It  makes me wonder again or still - how do we come to this type of behaviour? Yes, we're all human and capable of harming each other - yes, we all have a capacity for evil - but .... but .... little children. 

What leads us to believe that we have the only way? That God created the world for white people to control, destroy, use ... Where did we get such arrogance? How could we take a whole people's children and try to turn them into little - God, what? - caricatures of white people, but still with their darker skin that children came to believe was dirty because it wasn't fair - that they were savages because they didn't speak English or French, depending on the province, and because their spirituality was other than "Our Father, which art in heaven" Christian? White man's food, white man's clothes, white man's haircuts... and when they returned home eventually, they were neither one nor the other? They had lost their language and culture - had it beaten out of them - and yet they weren't white, either.

Idle No More is the rallying cry in Canada at present. I hope and pray it is a rallying cry that will continue until some kind of justice is done. Some kind of agreement reached about whose land this is that we inhabit and who has the right to sell, use, destroy. Until our Conservative government either gains a conscience, compassion, and understanding, or is defeated. Before it's too late ... I believe in hope - but realistically in this case it may be miracles that are needed - and I don't hold my breath that our PM and his government will gain a conscience.

If you get the opportunity, see this documentary. It reminds me of the Australian film, Rabbit Fences, I think it was called. Tragic arrogance of governments fixated on turning the world white by ridding the world of those who are different at the expense of their own and others' souls.

It reminds me too of the African story: "When the Christian missionaries arrived in Africa, we had the land and they had the Bible. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes and prayed. When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible and they had the land."

Pray. May we keep our eyes open, though, and stand firmly for justice.

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