On the legacy of Canada’s domestic genocide

How does one apologize for a genocide whose reverberations have never ceased? Platitudes echo emptily in the hallways of residential schools that house the bones of abused and murdered children. A week ago I sat in one such place of higher learning, surrounded by one hundred adults holding back tears. They spoke of being haunted by the memories of their seven-year-old selves, clinging to their parent’s coats as they were torn away by strangers. They were civilized with a steady diet of violence, and had their language beaten out of them until they could no longer speak to their parents in words they could understand. We walked by boiler rooms and broom closets where students were raped by Holy Men. These stolen children were kept in a state of constant hunger and recall that they could never get warm. Every summer the children sat by their windows waiting for their parents to reclaim them – many of them still seem to be waiting to this day. This school near Caledonia was not an exception to any rules, the same cultural genocide was carried out by cold bureaucratic design at every school across our home and native land. The state used a generation of children as guinea pigs in a failed experiment of civilization. When these children grew up, we condemned them to another kind of hell – watching with smugness when some escaped in alcohol, drugs, prison or self-inflicted death. Some could never repair the psychological trauma of their educations. Yet against all odds, others not only survived but continue to fight ferociously against economic segregation and cultural death. Despite a consolidated campaign to break these children’s dignity, the young clung to each other, and made their families of their friends. Instead of considering our Shawn Brants and Bob Lovelaces as heroes for refusing to see their people’s rights trampled, the media has portrayed them as villains impeding the march of progress. These leaders are in prison because they had the audacity to inform settlers that the conquest is over. It is time for Canadians to admit our own culpability in the genocides that were perpetrated in our name, and which we all continue to benefit from today. Until we recognize our own role in attempting to destroy a people, there can be no peace or reconciliation.

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