• Truth and Reconciliation: What Joe Canadian needs to know
Apr 30, 2013

The commission was created after the $1.9-billion residential-schools settlement in 2007 between the government of Canada (along with partner Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist churches) and the Assembly of First Nations.

Frank disclosure of the atrocities committed at church-run, government-backed residential schools have finally started to come out into the open since the settlement. An apology by all federal political parties, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons in 2008, was seen as a step forward.

But for Native people, many of whom see the apology as shallow, free of any real remorse or substance, there is still so much work and educating to be done.

How do you fix the devastating impact of sexual abuse suffered by an innocent child of 6 years of age, whose only “sin” was being Mohawk?

How do you reverse the lasting effects of being beaten as a child for speaking your own Native tongue?

How do you give back the confidence stolen from these children after years of browbeating, intimidation and threats at the hands of nuns and other clerical figures who were in charge?

You can’t.

This truth and reconciliation commission, which is holding hearings across Canada, aims to put very real and horrific stories of abuse out there to the public, so Joe Canadian can see that what happened at residential schools had and continues to have a grave impact on Aboriginal people.

Residential schools lasted for more than 100 years. The last one closed in 1996, and they were spread across the country.

An estimated 150,000 Aboriginal children attended residential school, and there were 11 schools right here in Quebec.

Aboriginal children came home and could not converse with their parents after years of being forbidden to speak their mother tongue, and being forced to learn English as a way to “civilize” them.

Siblings were split apart in this province, with brothers unable to speak to each other in any language.

Intergenerational trauma, passed down from those students to generations that never set foot in residential school, is a sad reality in our communities. And it rears its ugly head in many forms, including lateral violence, self-loathing and abuse.

The commission hearings allow non-Natives a rare glimpse into our realities, and answer some lingering questions. Things like: How come most Native people do not speak their own language? What happened at residential schools? And, most importantly to non-Natives: How does this affect me?

Residential schools affect everyone in Canada, regardless of race, mother tongue or political creed.

Children were taken, sometimes forcibly, to schools that were promoted as great venues for civilized learning.

These schools turned out to be anything but — a litany of sexual, physical and mental abuse has been documented.

Imagine being sent to a foreign country and required to never speak English or French again. The punishment for disobeying? A severe beating. Until, left with a choice to live or die, you finally stop speaking your language.

Many brave children stood up for themselves, however, and paid for it with their lives.

Others died from malnourishment, tuberculosis and other diseases.

A number of children lie in unmarked graves that are only now being uncovered.

Rape was a regular occurrence. And what would happen to the rapists? Nothing. No one believed a 6-year-old “uncivilized Indian.”

This is part of Canada’s history.

It’s part of your history¸.

Why do we remember war veterans who fought overseas many years ago? Because they fought for freedom, and because we are taught to remember the tyranny they fought against.

These residential-school survivors and their stories need to be remembered by everyone in Canada, so that something like this never happens again.

Residential-school survivors are heroes; they fought a fight the magnitude of which few can grasp, but one that should never be forgotten.

The average Quebecer needs to know what these schools did to our people. And they need to know the detrimental effects they continue to have on our people.

They need to know the full history of Canada, not just the parts of it that the modern-day education system presents non-Natives for study.

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