Time to deal with school issue and move on
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, May 07, 2007 9:48 AM
Subject: Cuthand on Residential Schools
Time to deal with school issue and move on
Special to The Leader-Post
Monday, May 07, 2007
The residential schools issue is a story that won't go away and rightly so. Boarding schools were a travesty that destroyed generations of First Nations people and aboriginal people. The policy of destroying families in order to Christianize and civilize our people was the worst kind of racism.
These institutions were nothing like the boarding schools for the privileged such as Eaton or Harrow or Upper Canada College. These institutions were fundamentally flawed from Day 1. They were prisons where children were separated from their families, punished for speaking their language and physically, mentally and sexually tortured.
Boarding schools were a cheap way for the government to abdicate their treaty obligations to provide education on reserve. The object at the start was to create a compliant workforce of farmhands and domestics. Developing a "compliant" workforce meant tearing down the children and rebuilding them in the image of the colonizers. It was social engineering at its worst.
Children were torn down but few were rebuilt. Instead several generations of First Nations and aboriginal children were severely damaged and the result has cost the First Nations and Canada dearly.
A $2-billion settlement has been negotiated but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The real cost to Canada for the boarding school tragedy will run much higher. Boarding school survivors were unable to live in either world. They were caught between two cultures and the result was years of depression fraught with drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems and wasted lives. The real cost to society includes welfare, the prison system, generations of dysfunctional families and lost potential.
Last week the House of Commons voted on a motion to collectively apologize for the legacy of Canada's residential schools. This was a positive move and one that the federal government should formally adopt in the future. Underneath the motion lay a political minefield for the Conservative government. The Opposition goaded the Conservatives to issue a formal apology, casting them as heartless cads if they didn't.
But the government refused to issue a formal apology, recalling that the former Liberal government stopped short of an apology but instead offered a "statement of reconciliation." This statement was enough to open the door to a spike in the number of lawsuits and the government knows this will be the case again.
Instead the government is planning a $60-million, five-year truth-and-reconciliation commission to travel across Canada and hold hearings. According to Jim Prentice, the prime minister will issue a statement after the commission has completed its work. This will be more than five years in the future and I doubt that Stephen Harper will be around to make this statement.
A truth-and-reconciliation commission sounds good but many of the survivors are too old to participate. Remember they were children when they were in school so it's doubtful that any priests, nuns, ministers and other staff are around to answer for their sins.
The last schools were closed in the 1980s and few of the staff are still around. Many have died and others are retired and sitting in old folks homes. The prospect of beating up on a bunch of geriatrics as part of a healing process is hardly a positive step.
Coincidentally, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples lasted about five years and cost around $60 million. It focused much of the report's findings on the legacy of the boarding schools.
Unfortunately, the proponents of the boarding school system were absent. The result of the Royal Commission has been raised awareness and more than 23,000 lawsuits filed against the federal government. You reap what you sow.
We expect the compensation cheques to arrive in the fall. The Department of Indian Affairs knocked down the old brick monoliths as fast as possible, and many of the survivors are elderly and passing on.
We need to remember this is an issue that crosses party lines. Both the Conservatives and Liberals were in power during the boarding school era and both are on record of either supporting or allowing the boarding schools to function.
The time has come to deal with this sorry issue and move on. The boarding schools are a black mark on Canadian history that cost us several generations of damaged people. The effects continue to ripple through the population like the waves from a rock dropped in a pond.
Now we must look to the next generation to pick up where we left off. We have more educated people than ever, we have on-reserve schools and support for our families. I know that we can't forget the past, but we should avoid being prisoners of it.
- Doug Cuthand is a Saskatoon freelance journalist.
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