What comes to mind when we think of Aboriginals and their history within Canada? Is it their harmonious society or is it Canada’s genocidal actions towards their culture?
I would argue that what has happened to Aboriginals in Canada’s history is indeed cultural genocide. Canada and Canadians themselves must reconcile with this inconvenient truth so that we can build a healthier relationship with Aboriginals moving forward. As Canada moves closer to its 150th birthday it is worth acknowledging our history, proud and not, and figuring out how we can recognize and learn from our errors.
Aboriginals were here generations before the first European explorer stepped onto Canadian soil, with their own languages and cultures. Though they fought wars with each other, they lived harmoniously with nature with traditions spanning generations. So, what happened to this culture and this society?
The story of Aboriginals now enters a shameful period when they were forced onto reserves and into residential schools, losing their culture and way of life.
The residential school system was introduced just after Confederation, growing and growing into the 20th century, while simultaneously destroying Aboriginal life. Children were forcibly taken to schools hundreds of kilometers away, where they were prohibited from speaking their languages, were under constant fear of becoming gravely ill, and lost cultural identities that had been passed on from generation to generation.
It has been estimated that at least 6000 children died in these schools with mortality rates in some schools reaching as high as 60%, according to the best information that could be attained by the CBC.
To me that is cultural genocide. A whole segment of Canada’s population, an entire culture, which accepted and welcomed Europe’s first explorers into this country with open arms, was pushed to the brink of extinction. It is a tragedy Canada is still trying to come to grips with.
But Canada and individual Canadians can use these past mistakes as learning blocks so that a healthier relationship between Aboriginals and other Canadians can be built. There are things we can and must do. We must own up to our actions, so that all Canadians can happily celebrate the 150th birthday of Canada.
The current government is taking very positive steps towards mending the relationship between Aboriginals and the rest of Canada. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee and the Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and very encouraging steps, but the Canadian government cannot do it alone. It will be the task of every Canadian to work in unison and ask for forgiveness. Rather than seeing this as shaming of our past we should, as the name of the Commission tells us, reconcile with the past in order to move in a positive direction.What will define us as Canadians is how we respond to what happened and how we act moving forward as a country, as provinces and territories, and as cities, towns, communities, and individuals.
This is our defining moment.
Is July 1, 2017 going to be a day for all Canadians to be proud of what our country stands for?
I think so.