Harper and Conservatives say “No Apology” for First Nations residential schools
The New Government of Canada is breaking a promise that
was made to First Nations peoples by the former Liberal government of
Canada. Gee…. I would hate to say that the Canadian government
speaks with a forked tongue, or that the Canadian government is an
“indian giver.” But aside from falling into ironic derogatory stereotypes, I
think it's a mistake if Harper and the Conservatives must really think
that it isn't worth wooing First Nations votes for the next election,
at the cost of losing votes from all Canadians who actually believe in
truth, honour and good government.
After giving an apology for the racially motivated Chinese Head Tax
that was designed to deter Chinese immigrants from coming to Canada
after Chinese helped to build the Canadian transcontinental railway
that helped to bring European settlers to BC, thus displacing Chinese
workers already in BC – but not apologizing for the even worse Chinese Exclusion Act
that banned Chinese immigration and separated families from 1923 to
1947, Harper and the Conservative government agreed to give ex-gratia
payments to surviving head tax payers and spouses – but not
descendants, even though 99.9% of the original head tax payers and
99.7% of the original spouses had already died.
After handing Maher Arar over to the US government who gave him to the Syrian government to be tortured, and after the resignation of the top RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli,
the government gave Arar an apology and a $12 million settlement
because they said that's the appropriate amount if the case went to
Even 19 years after the Mulroney Conservative government gave an
apology and redress to the Japanese Canadians who were interned and had
their property confiscated during WW2… only after the US government
first compensated Japanese-Americans were only interned (no property confiscation) – and allowed
to return to their homes following the war (Japanese Canadians were not).
Why is the Canadian government refusing to give an apology and compensation to First Nations residential school survivors?
The residential schools forcibly broke up families, and refused to
allow them to speak their native language to each other. Twenty
years ago, I listened to Chief Joe Matias of the Capilano Band speak
about being sent to residential school, and not be allowed to go home
at any time – even though home was just down the street. They
used to speak to family members by yelling from windows, and then they
would be punished for doing that. The residential schools
destroyed First Nations culture and families, in a manner similar to
the Potlatch Act which forbade First Nations peoples from attending
potlatch ceremonies in BC – a cultural and social institution.
These laws paved the way to forced assimilation into Canadian culture,
or was it actually the road to cultural genocide?
This is why so many First Nations peoples developed a negative
self-identity in the early to mid 20th Century, similar to Asian-Canadians. If
you practiced non-British cultures in Canada, it was
non-Canadian. Okay, in a British colony, maybe practicing German,
Ukrainian, Jewish, French or Italian traditions wasn't cool. But
it was looked upon as worse if your culture was South Asian, Chinese or
Japanese. But isn't it even far more cruel to impose rules on a
culture that lived here for a hundred generations before British
invaders even arrived in a land yet to be called Canada?
These are the kinds of incidents that make you embarrassed to be a
Canadian… especially with the 140th Anniversary of Confederation to
be celebrated in 2007. It's bad enough that PQ leader André Boisclair
was still making “slanting eyes” comments during the Quebec provincial
election. I guess he isn't a “real Canadian” who believes in
mutual respect, Canadian history, multiculturalism and inclusiveness.
There are many articles and editorials from mainstream newspapers and
magazines calling on the government to make an apology and more.
Here are links to some of them, plus an editorial from the Toronto Star.
March 28, 2007
This country and its governments wronged early Chinese immigrants
with an odious head tax, for which the government of Prime Minister
Stephen Harper has now apologized and paid compensation.
This country and its government wronged Canadian citizen Maher Arar by aiding the U.S. government, which sent him toto be imprisoned and tortured. For that, the Harper government apologized and paid compensation.
This country and its government also wronged native Canadians for
more than two decades, starting in 1874, when it forcibly removed
native children from their homes and placed them in residential
schools, where they were not allowed to speak their own language and
where many of them suffered sexual and physical abuse.
While the Harper government is ready to pay compensation, it won't
apologize on behalf of Canadians. Indeed, Indian Affairs Minister Jim
Prentice said this week the government has nothing to apologize for.
In adopting this position, Harper and Prentice have broken a
commitment made in 2005 by the previous Liberal government to apologize
to the victims.
Honouring such moral commitments ought to be just as important after
a change in government as the obligation is to honour previous
government's accumulated debt.
More fundamental, however, is the glaring flaw in Prentice's argument for why no apology is necessary.
Because “the underlying objective (of residential schools) had been
to try and provide an education to aboriginal children,” Prentice
claims, “the circumstances are completely different from Maher Arar or
also from the Chinese head tax.”
That is like saying the ends justify the means, an unpersuasive
argument when the means involved tearing apart native families, as well
as widespread abuse.
The Harper government should apologize for this stain on Canada's
history which, in the pain and suffering it created, is every bit as
shameful as the treatment of the Chinese migrants and Maher Arar.