Good memorials, bad memorials of residential schools

First Nations show the way to reconciliation. Protestors with other agendas should pay heed.

Tk’emlúps residential school. Image: APTN News

In a transformative move, Indigenous Canadians have designated the residential schools that robbed them of their language, art and culture into historic sites.

Not just the school buildings themselves but the whole residential school system has been designated as an historic significance.

The recent move was a collaboration of The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) and its survivors circle, Parks Canada, and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

So far, just two schools have been named historic sites but more are expected.

Senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said that recognition of schools in Nova Scotia and Manitoba as national historic sites is a good starting point. He intends to push to have others recognized as well (Globe and Mail, September 1, 2020).

The Tk’emlúps residential school in Kamloops seems like a good candidate to be next.

The goal of the Tk’emlúps school is to educating Canadians. Their website states:

“Our goal is to make ourselves more accessible to the public and certainly to our membership. Throughout your visit you will have access to information in various departments and corporations as well as gain a better understanding of the complexity of our organization.”

A visit to the residential school made an impression on my son when he visited the reserve while attending elementary school.

Lorraine Daniels, who attended three different residential schools in Manitoba over the span of seven years, said the designation will be historic for survivors of the schools and recognition of their pain.

“It is a victory,” she said. “It is a milestone in our journey because everyone is on a journey towards healing. … It is very encouraging that the government is taking this step to acknowledge the residential schools and the system. As a residential school survivor, that gives me hope.”

Recognition of the residential schools by Canada’s indigenous peoples is both painful and refreshing. While indigenous peoples still bear the scars of being taken from their parents and being abused by the operators of the schools, their approach is superior to that of the vandalism of monuments to John A. Macdonald.

Statues of Macdonald are seen as bad memorials, at least seen by groups who have highjacked the healing and reconciliation process. As a promoter of residential school system, you would think would think that Macdonald would be a target of indigenous people. Not so.

Most recently, on August 29, 2020, a  statue of John A. Macdonald was toppled in Montreal. The vandals wanted to defund the police. What does the statue have to with defunding the police? It was simple a convenient target sure to get media attention.

Before that, on July 18, Black Lives Matter protestors poured paint on a Macdonald statue in Toronto. Macdonald, no saint, had nothing to do with discrimination of Black people in Canada.

Senator Sinclair, while still chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman, told The Canadian Press in 2017 that tearing down tributes to historical figures would be “counterproductive” to reconciliation efforts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

As demonstrators of all stripes target public memorials, Indigenous Canadians show what true reconciliation looks like.

 

 

Cultural Genocide in Canada

At first I found the accusation that Canada committed genocide to be incredulous. I don’t recall Canadians marching into villages and hacking people to death with machetes as happened in Rwanda. I don’t remember Canadians rounding up families and send them to gas chambers as happened with the Nazis.

Yet, when the chief justice of Canada’s Supreme Court and the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission charge Canada with cultural genocide, I have to pay attention.

children

Strange as it may seem, Prime Minister Harper helped me understand what cultural genocide is. He’s the one who condemned it in Turkey and Russia.

Mr. Harper did not hesitate to call what the Ottomans did to the Armenians as cultural genocide. Doug Saunders makes the comparison (Globe and Mail, June 6, 2015):

“There is at least a functional similarity (albeit at a slower and less lethal scale) to the acts committed by the Ottomans against Armenians on Turkish territory in 1915: Those acts involved the mass, violent uprooting, force-marched relocation and forced-labour institutionalization of an entire people, with considerable disregard for life (as well as some considerable acts of outright murder).”

What happened in Russia was similar too. The Soviets forced families into collectives to grow food for Russia even as those families died of starvation. Children were removed from families and stripped of their language and culture. Sounds familiar.

Our first prime minister, John A. Macdonald made it clear what his intentions were when removing 150,000 children from their families and sending them to residential schools; it was to “acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

These institutions were more along the lines of British child-labour reformatories than they were like schools. When children were unable to grow their own food, 4,000 died of starvation and disease.

“In other words, Canada’s crime fits into the historical pattern of a certain sort of genocidal act,” continues Saunders, “one that has been recognized and condemned by Ottawa when it has taken place in other countries. By acknowledging the validity of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s label, Ottawa would gain credibility in applying it to other countries.”

Depressing as it may be to live in a country that committed cultural genocide, there is a way forward. It starts in the distant past, before the 1870s when the shoe was on the other foot. Back then when native people were in the majority, European explorers would not have survived without the generosity of their hosts. Newcomers were not herded into camps and their wild British ways whipped out of them in lessons taught to the tune of the hickory stick.

Canada needs to return the favour shown by our hosts. It almost happened with the Kelowna Accord in 2005 when then Prime Minister Paul Martin reached a $5 billion deal with first nation leaders to improve the health and education.

Former Canadian Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine called the Kelowna Accord a breakthrough for his people but calls for implementation  have fallen on deaf ears. Our PM has defined what cultural genocide is by his condemnation of it in other countries. It’s time we dealt with it in our own back yard.