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Respect is the Key

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

by Joyce MacDonald

Last week I told a young woman that I was going to be attending the truth and reconciliation hearing on residential schools.

“What was so bad about the residential schools anyway?” she asked, a question that makes it clear that Canada has a long way to go in facing up to a shameful history of attempted cultural genocide of First Nations people. The Canadian government, in partnership with many Christian churches, was responsible for taking young Native children from their families, in a deliberate effort to wipe out their languages, cultures, traditions and ways of life. Living in often abusive conditions in boarding schools far from their loving families, many of these children have struggled in later life with dealing with their experiences. Stories of alcoholism, broken homes and suicide among survivors are common, creating a legacy that still haunts many First Nations communities today.

Though the Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia closed in 1967, the Canadian government continued its involvement in other residential schools until the mid-1990s.

The Cape Breton survivors who came out to speak about their experiences on Friday are now respected elders in their communities. It was hard to imagine the evil that was done to them in the name of making them not-Indian.

That was the stated goal of the residential schools. The massive racism implicit in that goal should remind us of the extent to which all the underpinnings of Canadian society are flatly racist. Canada is built on a European land grab. Racism is all around us, impossible to avoid, in both official acts and popular culture. As Margaret Poulette put it last Friday, “When you watch TV, you always cheer for the cowboys.”

The way past this legacy of racism is one all Canadians should be seeking, not just those directly affected by residential schools. Our culture is broken, and we are all in need of a journey of healing.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know the answer to “have you done, thought or said something racist?” is yes. I have. It’s impossible to avoid, when so many historical and cultural forces support it.

So I’ll ask you to ask yourselves a different question: do you treat people with respect? Breaking down racist attitudes is that simple, at the heart of it, and it’s something we can all start doing today. Ask yourself, is what I’m saying respectful? If it isn’t, stop. Ask yourself why it isn’t. There are sometimes people who have, through their actions, earned a lack of respect. But there are many, many other times when all cultural pressures that are racist, sexist, ableist and so on nudge us in the wrong direction.

It was impossible to hear the appalling stories of physical and emotional abuse perpetrated on small children in the name of assimilation without being moved to tears. It was also impossible not to respect those who survived that experience, and who have gone on to become pillars of their communities.

So, to honour them, spend some time thinking about who you treat with respect, and why, and who you don’t treat with respect, and why. Only through respect can we begin to tackle the ugly, tangled knot of problems left to us by a sordid history of casual hatred.

This column was originally published by the Inverness Oran. Read also Joyce MacDonald's report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's event in Eskasoni.


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Comments

Please watch the videos I took of the last day in Halifax

It will take a few days to upload them all at this link;
www.youtube.com/folkphotographer

This is about the horrific abuses suffered by the Canadian Native peoples across the country. READ THIS ARTICLE Residential School Survivors Share Their Stories http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/story/residential-school-survivors-share-the... I also lived at one of these residential schools. In my article I called it an orphanage. please read it here; http://danieltowsey.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/catholic-children%E2%80%99s... I did not go to the testimonies as I am sure I would of cried through the whole thing.. I remember very clearly everything I suffered at the hands of the Catholic nuns.. I recommend you watch UNREPENTANT: KEVIN ANNETT AND CANADA'S GENOCIDE (documentary)' http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=-6637396204037343133 Be sure to watch my International POW WOW series of videos

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