On the Eve of my country’s birthday I listened to the words of a young man who spoke the truth of the experience he has had, growing up in Canada – an experience totally different from my own.
He had a turbulent childhood and youth, to put it mildly; whereas, I had stability, support, and safety.
He faced violence and gangs; whereas, I faced a disability and illness.
We are both around the same age and are Canadian, but is that all we have in common?
I don’t know very much at all about this particular guy’s culture or customs, but this video moved me and made me want to bridge that gap.
He spoke of breaking cycles and chains of abuse and neglect in his family and community, but he spoke of all these things with humour and humility.
Twenty-four hours later I stood with my own family, on my own front lawn, for a spectacular fireworks show. The lights and the bangs were all around us. I thought about the celebration we put on, to celebrate Canada, and what that really means.
I believe it’s fair to say that when the rest of the world thinks of Canada, they think polite, friendly, warm.
We live in a cold climate. We are passive. We are where the Underground Railroad ended up and where deserters fled to in protest of the Vietnam War.
We are the safe place and the non-judgmental refuge from danger and persecution, right?
Well, not always.
Are these truth or myth or a bit of both?
History books might tell a different story. If they don’t, they should and they haven’t, not nearly enough, but we shall see what history says about the time we’re now living in over the generations to come.
Canada turns 148 this year and our flag is celebrating its 50th birthday.
Last year I spoke of the ten things I love about my country, in a post I titled:
This year I thought I would change directions because I can’t only highlight the things that make Canada great, without speaking up on others that are just as important, even if they aren’t quite so pleasant to think or to talk about.
None of what I have to say today means I love this country any less. It is beautiful and splendid. I love my home, but that is precisely why I believe it is necessary to bring attention to what’s been in the news and on the minds of many Canadians, including myself.
My heart has been heavy recently, as I’ve listened to the media speak about something known as The Truth and Reconciliation Commission or TRC.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
At times such as Canada Day and the recent anniversary of our first prime minister’s birth, we celebrate the man and his accomplishments. It’s known as a sign of respect for the history and the leader that he was.
Steven Harper Celebrates 200th Anniversary of Sir John A. McDonald’s Birth
Then I hear something he said:
“Take the Indian out of the child.”
These were McDonald’s words. I don’t feel quite as up to celebrating him when I let it sink in that this was his plan for a population of the country he considered a problem, an issue to be dealt with, a plan being decided on.
Possibly more than 150,000 Aboriginal children (First Nations, Inuit, and Metis) were torn away from their families and placed in residential schools. This was a way to remove most traces of their culture and make them conform to what the churches believed a child in Canada should be.
It’s being termed “Cultural Genocide”.
Of course, on automatically hearing the word genocide, the first thing that springs to mind is the Holocaust or Rwanda, 1994.
You put the word “Cultural” in front of it, of course, to slightly shift the meaning and lighten it just a bit..
An entire minority in society, considered undesirable, was not murdered, but here in Canada, for more than 100 years, a culture was destroyed, or at least a pretty damn good effort was made.
These schools were harsh and cold places. In any place like this, there are those who take advantage of their positions of authority and much sexual, physical, and psychological and emotional abuse was perpetrated on a highly vulnerable population of innocent children.
I find the common thread, which I believe every person should do, when relating to the troubles of others.
In this case, I admit I feel very strongly about the effect segregation can have. I don’t know how closely it can be compared, but for hundreds of years, children with disabilities such as blindness and deafness have been sent away, removed from their families and most of the rest of society and placed in residential schools.
Of course, there are boarding schools all over the world, and sometimes this can be a part of a successful education, but I don’t believe it is a healthy thing to send a child away from their home. In the case of a child with a disability, it seemed like the answer. If you get a bunch of children with disabilities of the same sort in one educational facility, you can then teach them all and help the students get the special support they all require.
This, however, hides them away from the rest of the world. For so long, the rest of society did not want to see these children and it made sense to keep them separate. This touches a particular nerve. I was never sent to one of these schools and I have always been grateful for that. I don’t believe segregation is the answer to anything.
I am continuously baffled by the history of the white man coming in and taking over land, territory, and whole continents from Native people.
Aboriginal, original people who inhabited the North American continent, and all the nasty things that would take place back and forth.
History class was interesting enough to me in school, but I don’t know much about treaties and rulings. I tried to educate myself on the past. Now we have arrived in 2015 and the commission is being discussed everywhere.
I hesitated because, as I say, I wasn’t sure today was the day to talk about this. Then, I worried I knew very little and do not wish to offend, but this is such a divisive subject anyway.
I’ve heard from those who suffered and from educators and scholars.
Should there be more separation and division?
Reserves. Cycles of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. A chain of poverty, drugs and alcohol.
This has existed. Something unhealthy has been allowed to continue and of which was allowed to persist because of the silences surrounding such horrifying things.
I would like to see less segregation. With the closing of the schools, I would like to think we could all share the beautiful place that is this country.
Is this reasonable, practical, or even possible?
Is it enough to say you’re sorry? Should there be forgiveness? Is that enough?
I recently came across a blog post, written by Canadian writer and blogger Carrie Snyder:
Truth and Reconciliation in Canada
What she wrote moved me into wanting to write my thoughts down, to try to speak up. That is because the silence needs to end.
Whatever any of us think, wherever we come down on our country’s role, at least we’re talking now. I don’t have to be so afraid to speak about this because I care and want to understand.
I want others, who may not be aware of what happened in my country, to hear about these things from one whom a more inclusive future in her country is hoped for.
I know what it must feel like to be a part of a population society has historically preferred be hidden away from everyone else. It’s a feeling of being unwanted and ashamed of.
The last residential school for Aboriginals was closed, more recently than most people might think. The year 1996 is not all that long ago still.
We can shy away from hearing about such troublesome things, or remain unaware as I was until recently, or we can all become aware and work toward something better.
Canada is not this safe, timid, perfect little country we’ve been portrayed as in the media. We are not the goodie-two-shoes little neighbour to the north of the United States.
We made our share of mistakes or more than that word can ever say.
I want us all to be fully Canadian, while still holding onto those parts of our unique cultures and histories that make us who we are and always have been.
I would like to think that young man I first spoke of and I can and are both doing our parts to make a future country of Canada as great a country as we claim to be and have always been.
I know, from listening to him speak, that is what we both can and will do. That is what we have in common. I love my country and he loves his. I want it to go forward, having every reason in the world for every one of its citizens to be proud of the Canada we are, the best Canada we can possibly be.