Monday, June 23, 2008

The Legacy Continues: Part 1 - Meyer

On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an historic apology to the Aboriginal people of Canada on behalf of the government of Canada for their 100 year long act of cultural genocide – their stated policy to “kill the Indian in the child.”

Some people might be wondering what all the fuss is about. The last Indian boarding school was closed in the late 70’s. Why are we still talking about this? What good will an apology do? What good will more money do? There will even be those who ask: why can’t they quit their whining, get a job and earn a living like the rest of us?

Of course, for many Aboriginal people, they do “have a job and are earning a living like the rest of us.” What most non-Aboriginal people fail to understand, is the huge barriers that Aboriginal people face to get to this place in their lives.

It goes back to what happened 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 generations ago. It is their legacy and it is our legacy. Not a single one of us is immune from the responsibility. We may not have personally killed a buffalo, pushed people off their land or assaulted an Aboriginal child in a residential facility – but we are living off the benefits of what our ancestors did. Look around: we are rich and successful, and Aboriginal people continue to struggle. It’s way too easy to say it’s their fault – that they are lazy and opportunistic (they’re getting money; why should they work). It eases our consciences but it is nowhere near the truth.

In my lifetime, I have personally witnessed the effects of Indian residential school. I know Ojibway and Cree women my mother’s age who were taken away from their parents as little children – some as young as four-years-old. One man I interviewed (just a few years older than me) didn’t see his family again until he was 16. These children were taken to residential boarding schools. Sometimes their home communities were located hundreds of miles away – and not many people, especially not Indians, had cars back then. Parents had to make appointments to see their children and because of poor communication (no telephone either!) they would sometimes miss their appointed times and only get to see their children through a fence. Sisters and brothers were separated. Children were beaten for speaking their own language. I remember being in a country alone for 6 weeks when I was 18 – I could speak some of the practical aspects of the language but could not express the feelings in my heart. When the Aboriginal children were finally released from residential school, they had been there so long and at such a young age that they could no longer speak the language of their moms and dads. Many came home to find their grandpas and grandmas had passed on. Perhaps the most devastating part was the inability to talk of the abuse that had happened during their time at residential school. The priests and nuns were considered to be next to God – it was unthinkable that they would sexually violate little children. When children who had been physically and sexually abused tried to tell someone, no one believed them.

With nowhere to belong and with the unacknowledged abuse buried deep in their souls, many returning teens turned to alcohol to numb the pain.

Dorene Meyer
Author of Deep Waters, a compelling contemporary novel that will give you the opportunity to “walk a mile in the shoes” of Gracie, a First Nations residential school survivor, and experience her reconciliation to Sarah, the daughter who had been taken away from her at birth.

There is no “them and us” – there is only “us.”

1 comment:

Joanna Mallory said...

Dorene, thank you for speaking truths that are hard to hear, but that need to be told.

"Us and them" has caused so much pain in so many parts of the world.

I'm glad that through Jesus we can truly find there's only "us".

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