Imagine It…..If You Can

Indian Residential Schools: Acts of genocide, deceit, and control

Children’s graves a crime against humanity

Many Canadians don’t seem to care about lasting effects of Residential Schools

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Imagine, if you can, the idea of having someone show up at your front door one fine day, armed with a court order from the government that authorizes them to take away your children, ages six and seven, and send them 500 miles away to be raised and educated in a state- or church-run residential school.

Inconceivable!  Couldn’t happen!  I mean, we all have our rights as citizens of this fair land, and so do our children, right?

Nevertheless, try to imagine your horror if it did happen.  Imagine seeing your children whisked away in a government vehicle, in the company of two stern, efficient-looking caseworkers, and you rendered powerless to stop it by the police in attendance.

Imagine your grief when you enter your children’s empty bedroom that first evening, only to see their favourite cuddly-toys lying on their beds, overlooked by the uncaring abductors in their rush to pack and go.

Unthinkable!  This is Canada, after all.

Still, imagine the anger engulfing you as you try over and over again—always in vain—to find out why this happened. 

Imagine your frustration as every phone call, every letter, every face-to-face meeting, every court appearance results in the same outcome.  You are told time after time, endlessly, that your children have been removed to a ‘wonderful facility’ to ensure they receive the best education, the best care, the best upbringing—all designed to guarantee they will eventually fit into the culture and norms of the broader society in which we all live, unencumbered by the standards and values that you, as their parents, might otherwise have instilled in them.

Impossible!  No one has the authority to take children away from their parents unless those parents are deemed unfit.

So then, imagine your shock when you learn that the authorities do consider you unfit to raise your own children.  And why would that be?  Well, maybe because you look different than they do, or you speak a different language, or you worship differently, or you are uneducated, perhaps impoverished, or you don’t live in a respectable neighbourhood—or any of a number of other specious reasons they offer up in support of their decision.

Imagine going to jail if, overcome by exasperation, you take matters into your own hands to recover your children—illegally, according to those same authorities.

Imagine the weariness that finally overtakes you as you try—always in vain—to fight the inevitable.

This is a silly exercise!  I can’t imagine such a thing happening!  This is Canada!

It’s true, this is Canada.  But indulge me by persevering with the exercise a while longer.  Try to imagine the soul-withering despair you would feel as day after day goes by, week after week, month after month, year after year, and you do not see your children.  Perhaps, if you are lucky, you receive letters from them now and then—more frequently at first, printed in pencil in block capital letters—less often as time passes, in cursive writing, using pen and ink.  And always in English.

Imagine writing letters in return.  What would you say?  How sorry you are that you let this happen to them?  How hard you’ve been trying to get them back home?  How much you miss them?  How much you love them?

And then imagine what you would think when their letters stop.  For how much longer would you continue to write to people you hardly know, perhaps grown into their late-teens by now?  Would you write forever?  With no response?

Couldn’t happen!  The authorities would be obliged to keep me informed.

Really?  So in that case, imagine the overwhelming grief and sense of loss that would sweep over you when you are informed—in an official, impersonal letter, typed in crisp black letters, on school letterhead paper—that your children have died.  They have died!

Shallow graves…..deep scars

Even worse, imagine that they die and you are never informed!  They die, and you never know about it.  Your children!  All you know is they were taken and you’ve never seen them since.  Never is a long, long time.

And finally, perhaps worst of all, imagine that you do learn of their deaths—likely not until long afterwards—but you are never told where their remains have been deposited. Try to imagine the unspeakable horror of knowing that, not only have your children been taken from you, not only have they died, but their very existence has been expunged, as if they never even mattered.

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I spent a happy day this past weekend in the company of my daughters and their families, including my five grandchildren.  And, although I am not usually prone to dark thoughts on such occasions, I tried to imagine what it would have been like if my sweet girls had been taken from me in infancy, what life might have been like if I had never seen them again.

I confess—it was nigh to impossible to imagine my family enduring such a horrendous, calamitous event.  I mean, we have our rights as citizens, and so do our children, right?  No one has the authority to take children away from their parents, right?  I can’t imagine such a thing happening!  This is Canada!

Except…except, such things did happen.  As recently as thirty years ago, and going back almost 200 years.  Right here in Canada. 

It seems to me that what happens next—what our nation does about this—will go a long way to informing us all of what it means to be Canada.

Imagine it…..if you can.

Happy Birthday, Eh?

Six syllables, sliding sibilantly over the tongue—ses-qui-cen-ten-ni-al.  One-hundred-and-fifty years as a nation, a vision struggling hesitantly to life on 1 July 1867.  Christened the Dominion of Canada, we were four provinces united against the manifest-destiny expansionism of the mighty republic to the south, but nestled still in the colonial arms of the imperial British embrace.

330px-Fathers_of_Confederation_LAC_c001855

The first priority of this new nation?  To fulfil the calling of its soon-to-be-adopted motto: Ad Mari usque ad Mare—from sea to sea, the Atlantic on the east, the Pacific to the west.  And eventually, a third sea, the Arctic to the north.

And so it happened, the inevitable northward and westward reach, propelled and supported by the building of a transcontinental railway.  After the original four provinces—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec—there followed: Manitoba, 1870; British Columbia, 1871; Prince Edward Island, 1873; Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1905; and Newfoundland, 1949.

Along the way, three massive territories joined the mix: Northwest Territories, 1870; Yukon, 1898; and Nunavut, 1999.

Now, here we sit in 2017, Canada, the true north, strong and free.

And what exactly is it we celebrate on this sesquicentennial?  What have we accomplished as a nation?  What are the values we stand for?  How do our actions and behaviours, both collectively and individually, demonstrate those values?

What does our country do for us?   Even more importantly, what do we do for our country?

It has been noted by critics, perhaps jealous of our good fortune to be situated on the northern half of the North American continent, that too many of us are apathetic about the affairs of our country—to which, in response, some of us simply shrug our shoulders.  Others, though, rally to the causes of the day, to try to influence the course of events, the outcomes, the future.

There is a long list of accomplishments of which we might be justifiably proud.  In the realm of medicine, the discovery of penicillin, insulin, and stem cells; in the sciences, the first light bulb, the telephone, Canadarm, and IMAX; on the world stage, international trade agreements, endeavours to control the deleterious effects of industrialization on climate, efforts to support peacekeeping initiatives around the world, a robust military response in defence of freedom during several major wars, and our welcoming of refugees displaced by global conflicts, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or skin colour; and in a more frivolous vein, the invention of peanut butter, the WonderBra, basketball, and Superman.

Of course, there are chapters in our history that might, with today’s sensibilities, bring a sense of shame: the exploitation and displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the horrors of residential schools; the trivialization and suppression of women’s rights; the mistreatment of Chinese and black immigrants; the expulsion and internment of Japanese-Canadians; and the continued exportation of asbestos to developing nations, even after it was banned in Canada.

None of these might happen today because of a singular document: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982.

charter

Governments of the day, to be fair, have apologised for the worst of these past crimes, and have established commissions and inquiries to seek a better way going forward.  But it is questionable, still, how much influence their reports and recommendations have had, or will have, on the future; witness the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Commission, and assess for yourself their lasting effects on national affairs.

As in everything, actions speak more loudly than words.

Still, when I ask myself if there is any country in the world I would prefer to live in, rather than in Canada, my answer is a resounding No!

canada

Despite the tumult and the shouting perpetually foist on us by the lunatic-left and rabid-right of the political spectrum, we are a people that wants leadership to govern from the centre.  We favour moderation, not extremes; tolerance, not xenophobia; dialogue, not diatribe; ideas, not ideology.

Do these tendencies render us apathetic?  I hope not.  Rather, I choose to think of us as slow to anger, quick to forgive, strong in the face of adversity, proud of what we have accomplished, and determined, not only to rectify the errors of the past (even if all too slowly at times), but to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Canada has had one-hundred-and-fifty years of practice with the concept of nationhood now, and still she carries on—both because of and in spite of, the behaviour and attitudes of her citizenry.  Count me as one who is proud to be called Canadian.

Happy Birthday, eh?