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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

FELDSTED -- Our behaviour doesn’t indicate we found the residential school system repulsive. We claimed ignorance and, when confronted with the truth, blame others

 


The memory of how wrong the residential school concept was must never be erased. We treated Indigenous people with contempt rather than dignity and respect.

No compensation can remedy taking children from their homes by force and attempting to reprogram their natural heritage.

Many expressions of grief following the revelation of remains found on the Kamloops residential school property are expressions of guilt for events over a century old over which we have no control. Provincial politicians are posturing but cannot fix the problems. Relations with indigenous people are in federal jurisdiction.   

Abuse and atrocities catalogued by survivors are authentic, believable, horrific, and unacceptable. It proves again that our veneer of civilization is thin and fragile.

In the 1890 to 1920 period, public standards and values were much different. Life was brutal, cruel, and short. Modern medicine was in its infancy. Child mortality rates were in the 45 percent range. Almost half of all children did not reach adulthood. Women were still considered chattels and did not have the right to hold public office or vote federally until 1918.  

The non-indigenous public has ignored residential schools for decades. They did not have children taken away, and their families disrupted. That was still the case fifteen days ago. Our behaviour does not indicate that we found the residential school system repulsive. We claimed ignorance and, when confronted with the truth, blame others.       

There is no proof of a mass grave in Kamloops. There is a graveyard which is not the same thing. There is no evidence of genocide; we don’t know over what period deaths occurred. We must proceed with dignity and respect for survivors and families of those who died. Emotional accusations are not helpful.

The contention that records of deceased students are unavailable is dubious. Schools were contracted to teach students and were paid by enrollment. Both schools and the government had copies. Who wrote or cashed the cheques? That is where the records are.        

Apologizing on behalf of people long dead will not assuage grief or bring anyone back from the dead.

The tasks at hand are to accept the evidence, work together to establish what reparations are needed by those injured, establish what supports are required to allow those harmed to rebuild what they have lost and provide supports. If we can accomplish that openly and respectfully, we are on the way to reconciliation.

We must insist governments account for their actions and facilitate reconciliation. They have lost the right to lead. The path to healing requires that we treat every Canadian with dignity and respect. One hundred fifty-four years of avoiding accountability, coverups, discrimination, and evasions must end. We need action, not talk. Time is up.

We must not remove statues of public figures or erase their names from streets and buildings. If we do, we erase their flaws. Their part in the residential school system will soon be forgotten, along with memories of the atrocities we claim to despise.   

We must link their names to their involvement with the residential school horror and make that a part of our history. We learn from our mistakes, and it is never too late to learn the dangers of tyranny directed at one race. The damage must be repaired at once and never repeated as we are all vulnerable to abuse through the misuse of government powers.

Governments created the residential school system in the name of all Canadians. They govern on our behalf. Governments that will abuse an identifiable group are unfit and a danger to every free person. We cannot claim ignorance of government activities and express anger long afterward when we discover inappropriate actions.

Demanding apologies from the Catholic Church is a deflection. The government created the policy and program and contracted with churches to carry it out. The government ordered that children be seized and had them conveyed to residential school facilities. While that did not give churches license to abuse, the government is still the primary instigator.

Our governments have discriminated against Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese, Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian people. Discrimination against Indigenous people is ongoing.

Our government has refused to deal with indigenous estrangement for over a century.

 

If we want these problems resolved, we have to pay attention and insist on better performance. We, the people, are not spectators; we are the government. If we fail to monitor the actions of our representatives and demand accountability, we have failed our civic duty.


John Feldsted ... is a political commentator, consultant, and strategist. He makes his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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