This week in my life caused me to say “oh, Canada” again and not in a positive way.
For those unfamiliar with anything going on in the great white north beyond vapid coverage in the New York Times or how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hair is looking according to the CBC, you probably missed the news of the mass grave. Yes, this is not something from Iraq. Out in British Columbia the remains of more than 200 kids were found at an old residential school.
This system – in a manner similar to facilities in the United States – took Indigenous children from their parents without their consent. It aimed to assimilate them and “kill the Indian in the child” and subjected hundreds of thousands of innocent people to traumas like forced experimentation, physical and sexual abuse and purposeful estrangement from parents. The last such space closed in 1996 and since then the nation has debated how to address this horror.
While some good things like apologies and a national commission on reconciliation have been carried out it is time to admit loudly and with shame the overall effort has been lip service to a community which deserves so much more. The concern non-Indigenous leaders and elite figures up north show for this demographic is window dressing. It is the kind of activity designed to paper over far more serious issues like the system above and countless other kinds of indignities.
When the current leader of the country was seeking office in 2015 for the first time, he pledged to end boil water advisories on reservations throughout the country. Scores have been subject to this issue for years and some for as long as two decades. This would not be acceptable in a third-world society and yet it happens here and as of 2021 the governing Liberal Party has said they will not be done yet and pathetically blamed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for the delay.
One of the world’s wealthiest societies cannot walk and chew gum at the same time?
As well, am I the only one shocked at the lack of prosecutions tied to schools? Critics say time has passed and to be fair this can be the case sometimes, but as of 2016 the federal government had identified over 5,000 alleged abusers who were still alive at a cost of more than $1 million. This initiative was for reconciliatory efforts and through the history of residential schooling fewer than 50 people have ever been convicted for crimes related to the locations, but hey, what else could you expect from a country also notorious for its poor efforts to deport war criminals?
The bottom line is, Indigenous people do not need another light speech, positive platitude, royal commission or day where everyone wears the colour orange and then feels good about themselves for another year. It is time for action. Prosecute abusers from residential schools who are still alive, put in actual effort on the boiling water issue and give these people some respect.
This is what real leadership, and not one secure in the fact it never faces any challenge would do.
TOP IMAGE: The Indian Residential School hockey team of Maliotenam, Quebec, circa 1950.