Apologies are critical, said Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, but they do not erase the past. They are beautiful to hear, but the memories of wrong-doing remain, and that, despite the pain these memories stir up, is a good thing, because as soon as we forget our past, we have a tendency to repeat it. “We need to learn and to remember.”
Smith was speaking with APTN reporter Chris Stewart on the eve of the last national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This last event is being held in Edmonton starting March 27 and runs to March 30. We miss the start of the event for this paper’s issue by just one day. Because of our press deadline we will have to bring you our coverage from these important days in the next edition of Windspeaker.
But in the meantime, we can reflect on these last few years and be proud. Oh so very proud of the courage that it has taken for thousands of men and women to stand up and tell their stories.
To share in a very public way the pain and suffering they endured when they were just so very young and vulnerable, and the pain and suffering that in turn has been visited upon their children and their grandchildren because of that treatment in the residential schools across Canada. No one with a sound mind and a working heart can dismiss the intergenerational impact of that system now. No one.
It should be a point of national Canadian pride that this truth-telling took place. Many Canadians can stand tall having shown the grace enough to listen and to try and make sense of it all.
They have shown a similar courage to take the brunt of that truth, to really hear it, and to understand the personal destruction that befell the survivors of this altogether egregious attempt to take the Indian out of the child, to assimilate them into the mainstream by attempting their re-engineering, by removing their beliefs, their culture, language, parents and communities from their lives. And beyond that genocide, there was the abuse of all manner and varieties perpetrated upon these young ones, left alone and unprotected in the care of psychopaths and pedophiles.
If any Canadian is still in the dark or in denial of the horrors committed against the students of these schools they should be ashamed. The truth is not only out there, it has been brought to you on a platter.
But here’s the next step, the next critical element. Those Canadians who have taken the instruction that has come from the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have absorbed a responsibility. They must remember and never allow it to happen again. No, we don’t have residential schools now, but we have an overwhelming number of our children in foster care across this country, more than attended residential schools by far. Our families are still being separated, torn asunder, this time because of neglect and poverty.
We need Canadians’ support. We need Canadians to speak up and help correct the outrageous. Remember what you have heard, and send a message to your politicians that says, Canadians believe caring for Indigenous children is a priority and this means restoring families and communities and building them up with what they need.
We have Indigenous children dropping out of schools and not graduating because they see no value in education systems that don’t reflect their worldview, that don’t include their cultures and languages, stories, heroes, teachings, and the underpinnings of their traditions in the classes. Canadians should say, ‘Let’s get this on track. Stop playing politics with these young people’s lives.’ It took millions of dollars to destroy these very things in the residential schools. Let’s make an investment in their restoration.
Canadians have been given a gift by the Aboriginal population that attended the Truth and Reconciliation hearings across Canada and shared their stories. It is a gift of opportunity, to see the past clearly and to reshape the future.
We cannot unhear what we have heard. We cannot unknow what we have come to know. It’s not OK to turn away from the residential school era and say, ‘Well we’re done with that now,’ because the legacy of that time remains with the survivors and their families and continues to reverberate within our nations.
Canadians have a part to play, because you have been a witness and have been called on to participate going forward towards reconciliation.