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Letter to the Editor: We apologized for residential schools

Some people are using individual acts of kindness and personal generosity to defend a colonial, racist and dehumanizing system of residential schools.
Lynn Beyak

Letter to the Editor:

Some people are using individual acts of kindness and personal generosity to defend a colonial, racist and dehumanizing system of residential schools. Unfortunately, Senator Lynn Beyak who is from this region is ignoring the realities around us that led to an apology in the House, and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) so that our history is properly told.

Indigenous people are the only Canadians subjected to residential schools and have first-hand experience on how they were treated, have been affected, and continue to suffer from the inter-generational impacts. As acknowledged in Prime Minister Harper’s apology on June 11, 2008 with the unanimous support of Parliament:

“….The legacy of Indian residential schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today. Therefore, on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to aboriginal peoples for Canada's role in the Indian residential school's system. To the approximately 80,000 living former students, and all family members and communities, the government of Canada now recognizes that it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes and we apologize for having done this.

We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that, in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that, far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled, and we apologize for failing to protect you.

Not only did you suffer these abuses as children, but as you became parents, you were powerless to protect your own children from suffering the same experience, and for this we are sorry. The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly ours as a government, and as a country.

There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential school's system to ever again prevail.”

It is hard to support attitudes, beliefs and policies that inspired and fostered residential schools. The good actions of individuals who showed empathy and genuinely cared for the wellbeing of the students should not be credited to a foreign and racist education system imposed on a sovereign people without consultation or consent. The survivors were resilient and those who thrived are not a reflection of a caring and nurturing system designed to make them equal. It is both discourteous and patronizing to tell victims subjugated under racist practices that we should not just listen to their negative stories because there were good deeds done by some folks who were part and parcel of governance and helped to implement the discriminatory policies. This is akin to arguing that since great people such as Booker T. Washington, Nelson Mandela, or Oskar Schindler emerged out of slavery, apartheid and the holocaust respectively, therefore these systems were not all evil. In this day and age, we should not spend valuable time searching for silver linings to justify racist, oppressive and dehumanizing systems, but focus on righting the wrongs and learning not to repeat similar mistakes.

I find it condescending for Senator Bayak to say that “she doesn't need any more education about the horrors of the residential school system because she ‘suffered’ alongside Indigenous people who were sent to the institutions.” We all have a lot to learn since the TRC finally gave a voice to once silenced groups to share their perspective on residential schools and what really happened that many of us were not aware of. It is unpleasant to hear the truth about how things once were in this beautiful country. We should be ashamed of the way original inhabitants of the land were mistreated--not allowed to practice their culture and speak their language as if the creator we believe is righteous erred by giving them their own identity.

We should not continue arguing about the merits of a colonial system and racist attitudes we have already apologized for. The TRC's Calls to Action offers us an inclusive way to move forward. Shaking off the shackles of slavery, apartheid, the holocaust and residential school is a long haul, and Indigenous groups predict that it will take seven generations to heal from the impacts of the old colonially-segregated education system.

Moffat S. Makuto