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Diversity Matters – reflections on an apology to First Nations

June 16, 2008

(bill reid with sculpture)

I wrote this post on June 11, while listening to CBC radio

On the spur of the moment, because of some pull or desire that I can’t quite explain, I turn on the radio. CBC. Of course. I’m hard-wired to the CBC but also listen to CKNW – the “Giant”- one of the “other” stations here in Vancouver that’s news orientated .

On CBC, the regular broadcast is interrupted by a live show recording the Prime Minister’s apology to First Nations from the floor of the House of Commons. Words float out to me, from the radio to my workstation at the computer. Outside my window, the Fraser River flows, east to west.

“I stand before you today…” The Prime Minister sets out a short statement on a long tragic history and words accumulate: “Indian Residential Schools, 150,000 children, removed and isolated; assimilated into a dominant culture; and then, horribly, the recall of a theme, “to kill the Indian in the child.”

I flick the dial to CKNW, my old hometown station. The “NW” stands for New Westminster although now the station is located downtown Vancouver: Trevor Linden. He retires. Lots of interviews about Trev as a player and a local citizen. I learn that # 16 will be retired.

Flick back to the CBC.

After the apology, a commentator interviews a local survivor of the Residential School system – a woman whose voice breaks with emotion. She tells the interviewer about people who “couldn’t speak” so they “committed suicide or drank themselves to death.”

I’m awash in pain that isn’t mine. And as a poet, this image appears as i type away:

I’m four years old. Up North with my parents. They teach at an “Indian school” run by the Department of Northern and Indian Affairs. I’m crying. No. Pouting. I want to play with my friend but she’s getting dressed up and going to an important event. My mother, says to me, gently, “but you can’t go because we ‘re not that kind of Indian.”

Indian – from the Spanish, indios. In Dios. In the image of God.

What will this apology mean for First Nations? How do Canadians, both aboriginal and “settlers” feel, think about this saga in our history. What is our shared history? Do we share in this trauma? When a group of people are profoundly mistreated what effect, either conscious or unconscious pervades a society?

There will be an a “truth and reconciliation commission” and it will last for five years.

What do readers think about the commission? Has anyone experienced life inside a “residential school”? As always, i look forward to your comments.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2010 10:51 am

    I appreciate the effort put forth in this blog. After watching 500 Nations produced by Kevin Cosner, I was compelled to do something, but in my frustration I had to realize that the only real thing I can do is to offer an online forum where white people can post their “apologies” to the First Nation peoples. What else can we really do as individuals? Please post the link whenever and where ever possible to get the word out to the white populace. Thank you for taking time herein to post your ideas to help.

    White Morningstar

  2. AvB permalink
    December 20, 2009 9:52 am

    i really like this one, rennee. when he apologized i wasn’t sure what to feel. reading this brought that same feeling back.

  3. September 3, 2008 10:29 am

    I have read you lates post from the 16th, and though you may be interested in reading my blog;

    Many thanks

  4. cwlisa permalink
    June 16, 2008 6:57 pm

    I really think Harper’s move on this was the right one – an apology needed to be given. However, I’m not sure what else Canadians and First Nations peoples can expect from the government. I think the government should be providing care for individuals who were involved in residential schools – counselling, proper health care and the like – but is a financial compensation going to be necessary as well? It is difficult to measure pain in monetary units. I think the apology was a good beginning to an end – admit that we messed up, we can’t change the past, so let’s move on and help these people come in to the future.

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