Yesterday I wrote a piece, about my experiences volunteering for the TRC, and my extreme awe at the amount of courage and strength that was required for these survivors to come forward and share their stories. Many of these stories were shared in the hope of reconciliation. Last week Don Iveson, the Mayor of the host city of the final TRC, publicly proclaimed the next year as a year of Reconciliation.
That word Reconciliation, has been a lovely buzz word thrown about lately, but what does it really mean? To be frank it is a personal term. One that can get muddy and be casually inserted into discussions until it loses all meaning. The word reconciliation to me means, a loving respectful relationship that stems out of mutual knowledge and understanding. Which we are obviously not there yet. Last week the phrase “Truth before Reconciliation” was coined (I am sorry I do not know where it originated) , I do not believe we will be able to form these relationships, if our partners, are still blind to their own history and truth.
So this morning I opened up my iPhone (my modern newspaper) and like I always do, over a cup of coffee, had alook at what was trending in the news. Within moments I found myself humming “hello darkness my old friend” thinking, Well, here we go again. The National Post for some reason, thought the closing of the TRC was a really good opportunity to continue to spread misinformed rhetoric under the guise of ‘opinion & free speech’. Whenever articles like the one published yesterday are printed by a broadcaster or newspaper, they must always fall under the category of editorial or commentary. The reason being, you require no factual information to form an opinion. You can essentially speak about your opinions on unicorns, and your piece is protected as a personal commentary. Which is why you would think, that when someone is selected to show their perspective, they may actually be an authority on the subject matter they are discussing. This would assist in maintaining the media outlets credibility, help tone down the amount of unicorn opinions being published. So why did the National Post let Jonathan Kay’s piece run? Why is his perspective relevant? When really all we saw was a disturbing push for the same old rhetoric infringing on any hopes of true reconciliation. To be cruelly blunt, the amount of twisting of half-truths and mental gymnastics that was required to continue on this disturbing narrative, of “why don’t you pull up yourself up by your bootstraps already” is commendable, even ballsy, especially right after the TRC.
This weekend I heard stories that I will never forget, I saw elders shaking and sobbing as they revealed their truths. Story after story after story like this, I ask Jonathan Kay, before you wrote this piece, did you listen to any of these stories? Have you seen their faces? To immediately try and turn this tragedy into the narrative of “the schools weren’t all so bad,” and essentially “come-on guys can you now finally ‘get-over it'” is like I said, a feat worth recognition. Seeing a certain level of compassion is required to absorb the seriousness of these issues, one that it is fairly evident, Jonathan Kay, you, do not seem to possess, not just by this piece but the smug and pithy reactions to criticisms made by Indigenous people, on the damage of these words.
Since you do not seem to absorb the seriousness of your words. I will critique this work. Paragraph by paragraph.
“On one hand, he described the reaction of his grandmother, who “told me about a dream she had of trying to turn a dark page, a heavy page. Too heavy.” But then Mr. Atleo decisively stated: “We must not burden another generation with anger and pain.” The message of his op-ed seems clear: As much pain as Residential Schools caused many First Nations people, we should not encourage young aboriginals to dwell incessantly on the injustices of the past. The whole point of the truth and reconciliation process has been to help these communities gain a sense of closure. If that project is to be a success, their members also must stop thinking of themselves primarily as victims.“
This is nothing new, this is the narrative I have been hearing since I was a child, just because you used the words of an Aboriginal man and his grandmother, this does not hide the exact direction we know you are headed with this piece. I would ask you, what is the point you are really trying to make? Experiences of race, identity and being an Indigenous person in Canada are complex, highly esoteric things and unfortunately something you will never understand. Co-opting Native voices to push the most common racial narrative in Canadian history, is frankly disturbing. If Atleo feels these things, allow him to say them. Do not place your narrative over top of his. We all know what you are trying to say, because we have heard it a million times before. It is not your place to tell us to “Get Over It”.
“Testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, like most journalistic coverage of the issue, has focused on the worst examples of abuse. But the truth is that the system was run by a patchwork of religious and government officials, and there was no universal residential-school experience for native students. Some schools were infamous. Others were humane.“
I have a question for you. Would you say these words to a survivor? After hearing what you so call “the worst examples of abuse” come out of a survivors mouth, would you look at them in their red-swollen eyes, and say this. Say that these schools weren’t so bad? Again I do not know why you think you have authority to comment on such things. Just because some students did not experience ‘the worst examples of abuse’ at these schools, does not in anyway mean that the whole entire system of stealing children, removing them from love, destroying their culture, destroying their self-worth and pride in being Indigenous people, that does mean that any of this was humane. No part of this was HUMANE!
“In fact, some First Nations communities, when given the choice in the mid-20th century, voted to keep their local residential schools open, because they wanted their children to learn the math and language skills that would permit them gain a livelihood. Many children at residential schools also received life-saving medical treatment — including medication for tuberculosis — that was unavailable to First Nations people still living in the bush or in remote settlements.”
You do realize that TB was one of the leading causes of deaths at these schools. That the infection rate due to the poor sanitation, the decreased nutrition, and complete disregard for infection control protocols (which were being adhered to in all other Canadian communities, schools and hospitals at the same time), killed thousands of children. Because of these government mandated protocols, the infections rates were often much much higher in the schools, then in the children’s home communities. If by life saving measures you mean experimental procedures, administered first on children, to determine if they were safe for Canadians and purposeful disregard for living conditions then yay, you are right! The natives should be so thankful to the Canadian Government! Thanks for the experiments, the dead children and the math!
“But even taking into account those students who had relatively positive experiences at residential school, the system produced an overall effect that was negative: A whole generation of First Nations youngsters grew up without any knowledge of how a nuclear family is supposed to work, of how loving parents are supposed to raise well-loved children.”
Ok this is where I am having an extremely hard time, not just dropping f-bombs all over the place but I will be respectful. (even though you might not deserve it) The nuclear family? I am judging from this term that you have not spent any time in any educational/ academic institution in the past what? twenty years? thirty? forty? Nuclear families quit being the answer to all life’s problems, a long long long time ago. When this is your idea of a healthy family http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muhfNK8WwNg
Maybe time for an update on modern concepts on the definition of family.
I could post paper after paper on the damages done by trying to attain, the idyllic 1950’s white nuclear family on everyone, including white people. This may come as a surprise to you, but mom, dad, 2.5 kids, a dog and the mortgaged house, is not the be all end all of solving these complex social issues. This isn’t even touching on your proposed solution to the damages done by forced assimilation, is more assimilation. You do realize that you just promoted the exact same type of thinking that started the residential schools in the first place? After how many generations, you tell me how well that worked.
“These are familiar demands from aboriginal leaders. And there is no doubt that some forms of progress really will require a devolution of powers to bands. But rebuilding First Nations families is primarily a social project, not a political project. And in some ways, the emphasis on treaty rights has actually retarded the healing of First Nations families — because the cash bounty has encouraged the transformation of reserves into miniature low-employment welfare states. No matter what one’s skin colour, dependency and idleness always encourage substance abuse, a lack of respect for education, local political corruption and other pathologies that prevent the creation of healthy communities.”
Ugh *&^&@#% Ok, deep breaths. I need a cup of tea and a repeat of simon and garfunkel. I do not think I have the strength.
Ok I am back. *&(#*(&@#(*#@&
ok let me try that again.
“And in some ways, the emphasis on treaty rights has actually retarded the healing of First Nations families — because the cash bounty has encouraged the transformation of reserves into miniature low-employment welfare states.”
Ok the last a final most common narrative regarding Indigenous issues in Canada. So far we have the “Get Over it!” the ” The residential schools, weren’t so bad!” the “The best solution for the damage done by forced assimilation, is MORE forced assimilation!” and finally the one we were all waiting for, we all knew it was there, we have the “Quit giving the Indians! HANDOUTS!“
For this last one I could talk about the funding caps, I could talk about the underfunding of basic social services, exacerbating situations of poverty. I could talk about the treaties, I could talk about basic Canadian History 101, I could talk about the insane amount of bureaucratic red-tape that stifles all economic progress, I could show you this video of Scott Serson former deputy minister of AANDC, crying about the discriminatory practice of funding for First Nations communities http://aptn.ca/news/2013/01/23/canadas-dealings-with-first-nations-unfair-former-inac-deputy-minister/
I could talk about Cindy Blackstock having to take the government to court over discriminatory under-funding of basic services for children https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3YtwF28ZD8
I could point you in the direction of Professor Pamela Palmater Speaking at Ryerson
I could urge you to take at least an introductory course in Native studies, before you post your opinion on a National Level.
I could ask you to do all these things, but honestly, would you?