I'M Sorry And Here Is 4 Billion

Last week Prime Minister Harper issued an apology to the native peoples of Canada for residential schools. We are getting our very own Truth and Reconciliation Program, which apparently comes with a 4 billion dollar settlement package.  I’m sorry, here’s some money, and can we please have some closure now??? This is the message that I get from this.  Harper did have some wonderful words to say though.

“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.  While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.
The legacy of Indian Residential Schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today. 
It has taken extraordinary courage for the thousands of survivors that have come forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered.  It is a testament to their resilience as individuals and to the strength of their cultures.  Regrettably, many former students are not with us today and died never having received a full apology from the Government of Canada.
The government recognizes that the absence of an apology has been an impediment to healing and reconciliation.  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 Schools system.”
The rest of the speech can be read here.

Not to be out done Opposition leader Stephane Dion chimed in with,  “The residential school system is even older than Confederation. Parents and children were made to feel worthless.
“Today, we lay the first stone in building a monument dedicated to truth.”

I was pleased when I heard that Harper apologized but since that time I have found myself thinking, and now what?  Natives are still over represented in the prison population, have large percentages living in poverty, and Native women are subject to an alarming rate of sexual assault in this country. So my question to Harper is now what?  It has been almost a week since you have apologized on behalf of Canada, but what concrete changes are going to happen to insure that Natives stand equal to every other Canadian, not only in law but in practice.  What is the national conversation about this issue really going to be about, and who is going to lead it?  Even while reporting about the apology, some reporters  like  Lorne Gunter, of the Calgary Herald could not refrain from racist attacks.

There’s no question the schools disrupted communities and made many families dysfunctional. Ripples are certainly still being felt. But a half century after the zenith of the schools’ activity, they cannot be the main culprit for today’s conditions among aboriginals.

Really, so the near destruction of Native culture, language and laws should have no effect on today.  Blacks have not recovered from slavery, and you expect Natives to get over the near cultural genocide that they had to endure. These schools affirmed the cultural location of Native peoples at the bottom rung of Canadian society, and since the government is still largely run by white men, and they are subject to white rules, what do you see as significantly changing?

Indeed, if I had to bet, I would say that 50 years hence some future prime minister will be apologizing in the Commons for the way today’s massive native subsidies — nearly $18,000 for every man, woman and child with treaty status — encouraged a welfare dependence that devastated whole communities by robbing them of the need to be self-sufficient.

Compensation for crimes is now considered welfare?  $18,000 is no where near sufficient for what happened. We claim to be a socialist country, therefore does it not behoove us to help those amongst us that are suffering without stigmatizing that aid…In this case it isn’t even aid, it’s COMPENSATION.  Somehow by paying them less than they are due we are robbing them of self-sufficiency? I think perhaps you are more concerned about how this is going to effect your rate of taxation, rather than focusing on attempting to correct a historic injustice.

Not every school was a hellhole. Nor was every teacher at the bad ones abusive. Lost in all the blame-gaming about the schools over the past decade are the stories of dedicated missionaries and teachers working in remote locations under poor conditions to teach aboriginal students academics and useful industrial skills.

The key to this comment is “academics and useful industrial skills.” This of course only applies if you consider those skills valuable, or recognize it as advancement.  If it is forced upon you, and the cost is your culture and traditions then no it is not advancement. It is not for us to judge from our perspective the quality of the lives they were leading.  What is appropriate for one segment of a society is not necessarily appropriate, or ground breaking for all members. 

Gunters historical revisionist approach to this issue is not unique.  Many Canadians are asking why they should have to pay for a crime that they did not commit, all the while forgetting that every single step that they take in Canada is on NATIVE LAND.  Everything that you own and take pride in, is predicated on the theft of Native land and the near genocide of a people.  This is Canada’s history, and while it may not be taught in our schools, it is the truth of what happened.

While I am thrilled at Harpers public apology we should remember that shortly after taking power, Harper’s Conservative government canceled the Kelowna Accord, which was a $5-billion initiative to address inequality for First Nations people. His Conservative government was also one of only two governments–Russia’s being the other–that voted against a United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. But he/we are sorry. True change cannot come just from issuing an apology.  Concrete changes need to happen to redress this historic wrong.  We cannot on one hand say yes were sorry, now turn your head while we continue to attempt to steal your land, supply untreated water to reserves, curtail your fishing rights, and throw your activists in jail when they refuse to acquiesce to our demands.  Truly being sorry means taking ownership for the problems that we have created.  It means listening with humility to the pain that we have caused, and attempting in the future not to repeat the mistakes that we have made.  So I say again, great apology Mr.Harper, now what?

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