The executive summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the residential schools that 'warehoused' aboriginal children will be released this week, on June 2. The full report, some twelve books, plus an audio recording of the statement of some 7000 witnesses, will come out later in the fall of this year. Chaired by the first aboriginal judge in the Manitoba justice system, Justice Murray Sinclair, the commission is about to generate considerable media coverage this week, and then, unfortunately and most likely, swiftly slide into oblivion for many reasons.
First, Canada has a shipyard full of reports from commissions of all sorts that looked into a myriad of public issues, most of which have fallen from the national consciousness under the weight of 'the blind eye,' the 'deaf ear', the guilty conscience and the national archetype of denial, especially of those issues fraught with the evidence of national shame, as this report certainly will be.
Appearing on CTV's Question Period, today, Justice Sinclair used words like, 'these children were treated as sub-human and in some instances even non-human"....
Earlier reporting pegged the number of child deaths in the residential schools around 4000, but that number has since been raised by at least 2000, and the final number will likely never be known, given the very poor record keeping of those who operated the schools.
If the politicians in Ottawa pay no attention, beyond the required and expected "lip-service" to this national disgrace, (In 2008, Prime Minister Harper made a historic apology for the harm caused by the residential school system.) certainly some prominent Canadian leaders are paying attention. One of these is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Madame Justice Beverley McLachlin.
The new death toll (of 6000 aboriginal children mostly from malnutrition and disease) comes in the wake of comments made by Beverley McLachlin, the chief justice of the Supreme Court. At an event on Thursday, McLachlin said that Canada attempted to commit "cultural genocide" against aboriginal peoples.
"The most glaring blemish on the Canadian historic record relates to our treatment of the First Nations that lived here at the time of colonization," McLachlin said. She was delivering the fourth annual Pluralism Lecture of the Global Centre for Pluralism, founded in 2006 by the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, and the federal government.
Canada, she said, developed an "ethos of exclusion and cultural annihilation."
(Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, Justice Murray) Sinclair said he agrees with McLachlin's characterization of the country's history.
"I think as commissioners we have concluded that cultural genocide is probably the best description of what went on here. But more importantly, if anybody tried to do this today, they would easily be subject to prosecution under the genocide convention," Sinclair told Evan Solomon of CBC Radio's The House.
"The evidence is mounting that the government did try to eliminate the culture and language of indigenous people for well over a hundred years. And they did it by forcibly removing children from their families and placing them within institutions that were cultural indoctrination centres.
"That appears to us to fall within the definition of genocide under the UN convention," Sinclair said.
(Residential schools findings point to 'cultural genocide,' commission chair says, by John Paul Tasker, CBC News, May 29, 2015)
Operated by the mainstream Christian churches, including the United, Anglican, Roman Catholic, these residential schools removed children from their parents, (considered savages by the governments who established the schools, as another application of the colonization period of western 'european' history). How often has the absolutist moral, and hypocritical self-righteousness of some in the religious and upper class communities resulted in extreme evil perpetrated in the name of God and country?
There now needs to be a national liturgy of fully accepting responsibility, of a new appreciation of both the damages done to families, individuals and to the aboriginal culture, and of the numerous and bountiful and generous features of aboriginal life and culture.
One such new approach, a high school in Edmonton that teaches students about the aboriginal culture, open to non-aboriginal students, has so far found only one non-aboriginal willing and interested in attending.
A recent immigrant from Great Britain, interviewed on CBC News Network, expressed a sincere appreciation for the opportunity to study at the school, especially when compared with the dearth of such opportunities in his home land. He intends to continue his studies of aboriginal culture following his secondary school experience in university.
However meagre is the number one, (this transplanted Brit) his presence and full acceptance by the First Nations students and elders who operate the school is a fulsome sign that more non-aboriginal students will follow his example.