*from the Huron-Iroquois word meaning "village" or "settlement"
I really don’t feel qualified to write this post.
But I didn’t want to remain silent on this Canada Day in the face of the realization that Canada’s founding fathers and church leaders attempted to exterminate the ‘Indian’ way of life…their national identities, traditions and ultimately break their spirit and worse.
I was never taught about this attempted and on-going genocide in school. I don’t know if any of my generation were - certainly no one before my generation and few after.
But generations of First Nations people have lived with the repercussions of being incarcerated in residential schools, either directly or indirectly. From 1876 to 1996, an estimated 150,000 children as young as four years old suffered the indignities of being forcibly taken from their homes and families by RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) or other government agents, had their hair chopped off, DDT put on their heads and wrapped for 24 hours, scrubbed raw with lye to get their colour off, their clothes burnt and given uniforms to wear, their languages forbidden to be spoken, their ability to visit their homes and families strictly curtailed or denied and their bodies and minds physically, psychologically and sexually abused. Thousands of children died as a result.
This was all done to assimilate them into Euro-white culture. And if that couldn’t be done, then just let them fall ill, withhold medical care, beat them, exterminate them.
Our first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, yes, Canada’s first P.M., put it this way in 1883, on the floor of Parliament:
When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.
Of course, racism was ripe during this time not just in Canada but around the western world, especially in the colonies and perpetrated by members of the Church - Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, United and Presbyterian faiths. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people in influential and powerful positions in the 19th century would say things that we consider abhorrent today. For example, MacDonald also believed that if the Chinese were not excluded from Canadian citizenship (yes, the same Chinese who were breaking their backs working on MacDonald’s legacy project of the Canadian Pacific Railway):
“…the Aryan character of the future of British America should be destroyed".
It feels like such a betrayal, for our country to have been built upon such egregious racism by its white colonizers. This shame is on our white shoulders. And for the first people who lived here to be treated with such injustice and cruelty is our national shame.
Racism is alive and well. But so is the hope for change and compassion. Let’s all do our part to learn more, to listen, encourage and stand shoulder to shoulder with our indigenous brothers and sisters.
You can read the Final Report of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission here. You can also commit to learning more here.
You can also watch the gut-wrenching documentary called ‘We Were Children’ here.
I also highly recommend this book.
Well done, Ailsa. I, too, feel not qualified to write or comment about this sad portion of the history of the founding of our country - as well as the unfathomable events that continued for so long. However, I believe that we as a nation are now ready to confront these truths and work with the Indigenous People to correct the wrongs and create a more equal and just relationship with them. Let's hope we can continue on this path of reconciliation, and not make it a brief period where this is in our awareness and then it disappears.