In the 1990’s Canada learned publicly about it’s dark history of residential schools and the government’s and church’s attempt to wipe out First Nations culture and forcibly assimilate the people into Western societal expectations. They did this by making laws to remove children from their homes and families, 150,000 of them, and submersing them in the new culture, attempting to “kill the Indian in the child.”
It back fired. They did not succeed.
However, their methods were cruel and extensively damaging. 6,000 is an estimated, but not accurate, number of children who died attending these schools, whether by starvation, disease, or physical and sexual abuse. The government actually stopped keeping records of the deaths because there were so many at an alarming rate.
Canadians were horrified to learn that the last residential school closed in Manitoba, my home province, in 1996. Our dark history was barely in the past.
In 2008 the Truth and Reconciliation commission was mandated to find the truth and make suggestions for reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations people. They published their findings in 2015. [A link to the PDF document is at the bottom of the article in the link above.]
So much damage was done to a culture fighting to get it’s roots back. The pressure is on to learn from elders, to pass along a culture that was mostly expressed verbally through stories from older generations to younger. Trying to save languages before they are lost. Traditions. And lifestyle.
Many Canadians expressed shame and sadness about this history. The Canadian government apologized to the people . And seven years later, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission gave their recommendations.
But with a problem this big, how does one person today, make a difference in a tragic situation that took over 130 years to create? A situation where the trauma is passed down from one generation to the next? Can one person even make a difference?
July 1st recently passed. Canada Day. The day Canadians celebrate being, well, Canadian. In 2017, the year of Canada’s 150th birthday, we were reminded that we are celebrating the 150th birthday of the signing of the Constitution Act of 1867. The document that solidified Canada becoming a country. Many Canadian’s have mixed feelings on Canada Day – should we celebrate our beautiful country, or do we feel shame for what our country did to a beautiful and undeserving culture? Is there a path in between?
I love my country. I was born here. This is my home. I don’t want to have mixed feelings about being a proud Canadian. And yet around the issue of truth and reconciliation, I struggle.
One Drop: Last year, I was introduced to a list of 150 Acts of Reconciliation. A list of things an individual could do to help move reconciliation forward. I jumped on this list and although I didn’t do it in 150 days as they encourage, I am still slowly but consistently working my way through it.
I have found the most important thing we can do is educate ourselves about what happened to First Nations people at the hands of our government and churches. Knowledge creates empathy and understanding.
I encourage you to pick something of interest to you on the list of 150 and pursue it.
I will create future posts about the things from this list that I have completed. As more individuals get involved a village will be created. And it will take a village* to repair the damage.
Please share your thoughts and ideas on acts of reconciliation in the comments section. It’s fine for ideas to differ, but always keep comments respectful.
* “The name “Canada” likely comes from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata,” meaning “village” or “settlement.” In 1535, two Aboriginal youths told French explorer Jacques Cartier about the route to kanata; they were actually referring to the village of Stadacona, the site of the present-day City of Québec. For lack of another name, Cartier used the word “Canada” to describe not only the village, but the entire area controlled by its chief, Donnacona.” source: Canada.ca