Thursday, September 20, 2007

Just Say Sorry

While today's announcement of a final compensation package for victims of residential schools is welcome news, it is my wish that the Canadian government will go further and issue a formal apology. It is the least they can do.

While what happened at these government-run train wrecks does not personally impact me I have met a few survivors over the years. Recollections of their experiences are something I doubt I will ever forget. What was done in the past is partly responsible for the sorry state of aboriginal education today. Heck, I wonder how I would have reacted growing up if I had been whisked away from sunny southern Ontario and plunked down in front of aliens speaking a strange tongue. Its shocking to think that at the system's high point there were 80 federally-funded residential schools in operation.

I wonder how many residential school survivors our federal politicians actually know. I'm sure I could count the total on one hand. Really, they need to get out of Ottawa and meet some of these survivors. Each survivor I have talked to has beared no ill-will toward me though I certainly couldn't blame them if they did since I am a teacher by profession. Canada's political elite should sit down with a residential school survivor for an afternoon, get to know them and their story. Maybe then, the government will finally have the guts to stand up and make a formal apology for this national embarassment. An apology.....its the right thing to do. Mr. Harper, do the right thing!


c'est moi said...

I'm travelling and must have missed the announcement. I wonder how throwing money at the survivors helps the situation. I believe that what needs to be done is more money being spent on psychological care and social services. My fear is that this money will be a temporary salve that masks the true needs of the victims. My uneducated guess is that the truer costs that the feds need to pony up on will never be paid. The damage done by the residential school system is now well into its third generation of victims but I suspect that the government will only pay out to those who were actually enrolled in those cultural genocide programs. What will be done for the children and the grandchildren who also bear the scars.

Jen said...

I know a few "survivors" who are getting money in the thousands...who only went to schools inside Nunavut for a few years, got a fabulous education and had a good time. But they are still getting paid! Why? There were no high schools in some of these communities, the government paid to have them moved to other communities with high schools & get an education. Honestly they wouldn't be doing the jobs they have now without going to these schools. However I am not trying to down play the real tragic stories of some of these people taken from their homes for years.

As far as the grandchildren go, they need to stop blaming a faceless government that changes every few years. They need to pull together, become a strong community and take responsibility for themselves. What else will the government do but give money hand outs, and that never fixes anything.

Kara and Matt said...

I am really concerned for my community when this money arrives. We have learned that over 1 million will be arriving in this community alone. In the last year we have had 10 suicides, most related to alcohol. The community is severly understaffed in social services, mental health, etc. I don't know how this place will handle that kind of money.

Way Way Up said...

True, one of the ironies of the residential school system was that it produced a generation of well-educated, literate individuals. However, one of the overriding ideas guiding government policy at the time was that Inuit and Aboriginal children would be best served by having their culture, language and values replaced by Euro-Canadian culture, language and values. Residential schools were set up exactly for this purpose under the twisted logic that Native knowledge and values were somehow "wrong" and were in need of correction.

I don't think its realistic or logical to expect that once cultural degradation has been institutionalized and enforced the way it has been that Aboriginal groups will magically pick up and go along their merry way as if nothing had happened.

As I understand it, "Europeanization" of Inuit and Aboriginals was official government policy until 1987. True, the government perhaps wasn't going out of its way to legally enforce this by this time but I still find it quite shocking and disusting that such laws remained in the books so to speak for so long.

In my experience, most Inuit/Aboriginals aren't out to witch hunt or blame anyone. Obviously, no amount of money can ever fix anything. They simply want a voice. When you make decisions on behalf of others without their input or cause harm to be done, an apology is usually in order - something universal across any culture.

An apology is a very simple thing. Which political party happened to be holding the reins of power at the time whether Liberal or Conservative, to me matters little. One of the responsibilities of a PM is to speak on behalf of Canadians and respresent their interests Harper needs to show leadership on this issue. And for the record, I did vote Conservative in the last federal election.

Jen said...

Are we not 'Europeanizing' them now with the schools? Sure there are a few sewing classes and the elders come in and talk about the histories, but isn't most of what they learn in schools these days mostly European influenced subjects? And don't people generally need those things to survive in todays world? The Inuk that get a good education today will be the strong leaders of Nunavut tomorrow. And they would have a hard time leading a territory if all they can do is hunt and can't speak anything but Inuktitut.

Your right an apology is simple thing that's easy enough to give and Harper does represent the people, it should be given. But I don't think they care about an apology, I am sure they would rather have the money. And when the money comes it's going to get crazy in these little communities! Believe me, I would much rather see a soulful apology come in then all that money.

The problem is that it's easier to just give an individual a wad of cash and send them on their way, rather then say putting more staff in social services or educating more social workers to help these people. And a lot of people I know don't want a voice, they just want the money.

Sure the Inuit won't be able to just pick themselves up and dust themselves off right away, but it will have to happen at some point. Maybe after a few generations of good education? But how else will it happen if not through themselves. Maybe they will wait for a leader, one that will be remembered with historical significance, but he/she will probably need to be an Inuk, and a good role modal for kids. What I am saying is that no matter how long it takes, these people need to start rescuing themselves, because the government is either just giving money (and that makes problems) or spending money (and that doesn't seem to work either).

Way Way Up said...

There is no question that the school system used today is based on Euro-Canadian values and goals. However, the WAY it was gone about back in the 1950's/1960's is radically different from today. Inuktitut language is encouraged in schools and children are no longer beaten for speaking it. I try to use as much of the language in the school as I can. We also have Inuk staff in our schools today......they are teachers and administrators not just janitors.

Residential school were operated under the guiding philosophy that Inuit language, traditions and values needed to be replaced or "improved". The guiding philosophy in today's classrooms is that the two systems of learning should compliment each other so that students gain competency in both. These changes of course will not happen overnight. It is not a perfect system but compared to how things used to work........

Indeed there have been great strides by Inuit toward "rescuing" themselves. They needed to be "rescued" only because colonizing Europeans with stilted Victorian attitudes of right and wrong screwed it all up for them in the first place. Indeed, one of the purposes of the Land Claim Agreement of course was to right the wrongs of the past.

From what I've gathered from following media reports it seems a lot of people are quick to jump to conclusions about how "they" will spend this big windfall. I find it sad people automatically assume the worst possible if "they" all just going to act irresponsibly.

In the bigger picture, when you consider what was lost and taken away, I don't think the average payout of $28 000 per former student is particularly onerous. Its not like this amount of money will go very far.....especially for Inuit livng in the far North.