Tuesday September 02, 2014

Apology for schools in schools


View from the Cheap Seats is kind of an extension of the newsroom. Whenever our three regular reporters, Calvin Daniels, Thom Barker and Randy Brenzen are in the building together, it is frequently a site of heated debate. This week: What do you think about local schools putting up framed copies of the federal government’s apology to Indian residential school students?

Empty gesture

It’s a nice gesture from the schools to put a framed copy of the government apology to residential school survivors. But that’s all it is: a gesture.

I agree that people should be informed about what happened to these Aboriginal people who attended the residential schools, however this is just a “feel good” story by the government to make it appear as if they are educating people on the past.

In reality, only one course (Native Studies) even touches on the topic of residential schools.

Instead of simply framing a copy of the apology in each school, which, by the way, will not be read by any student as they walk past it every day (really, students don’t recreationally read things on their school walls) they should instead teach these kids about the horrors of the residential school system in their classes.

Insert it into the Canadian history section of the Social Studies and History classes. Because, like I’ve said, the only course that touches on the subject is Native Studies (and big props to them for doing so).

We teach the kids about the Holocaust and the atrocities that the Germans committed in World War II, yet don’t even touch on what happened to the First Nations people in our own back yard (shame, no doubt).

In the end, this framed apology, while it will make people in offices all happy and smiley, will do nothing towards actually educating anyone on the matter of residential schools.

Nice try, Harper and co. Nice try.

— Randy Brenzen

Potential backfire

In terms of relations between First Nations peoples in Canada, and non-aboriginals, no cloud hangs darker than the legacy of residential schools.

The stories which have come to light over the years of outright abuse suffered by First Nations children once ripped from their family and taken to these schools is simply disgusting.

In Canada we sometimes like to think ourselves somehow above such travesties, although this legacy, the treatment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War and a few others, show we can be as criminally negligent as a nation as any other on this planet.

So when word came down the Good Spirit School Division was going to mark the impact of the residential schools have had on those directly impacted, and subsequent generations, it made some sense. Schools today are still having to deal with some of the long term effects on the overall First nations populace.

A public apology and recognition of the role schools played in the residential school abuse has to be seen as a step in the healing process, and would be most appropriate in a prominent, publicly accessible spot in the GSSD offices.

But to have it in every school might be taking it a bit farther than is wise.

Healing is needed. We all know that.

But sometimes constant reminders of the past only serve to create tensions and continued hard feelings.

Schools can be places of tension already, so this may add to those if not tactfully done.

The rationale of the GSSD is right, but the results might be less than they hoped for.

— Calvin Daniels

Absolutely necessary

I don’t think we can be reminded enough about Canada’s residential school history, so putting up the Canadian government’s apology in schools across the region is a good thing.

I know this is probably not the most popular viewpoint. I know there is a lot of public sentiment that the issue should be relegated to the dustbin of history.

The problem is, it is not just our history. It is our present and it will be our future if we don’t turn awareness into responsibility, responsibility into action. In simply pragmatic terms, it is in our collective self-interest to build a fair and just future for all Canadians. The status quo diminishes us all.

“A commitment to change will also call upon Canadians to realize that reconciliation is not a new opportunity to convince aboriginal people to “get over it” and become like “everyone else,” said Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as public hearings wrapped up in Edmonton recently. “That is, after all, what residential schools were all about and look how that went.”

Current generations of Canadians may not have perpetrated the wrongs of the past, but we run the risk of perpetuating them if we don’t share the responsibility of righting them. That does not mean feeling guilty about it. Feelings of guilt are counterproductive as are feelings of victimization.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrapped up the apology in the House of Commons in June 2008 by referencing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“It will be a positive step in forging a new relationship between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward together with a renewed understanding that strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us,” he said.

And that’s the key, not forgetting the past, but remembering it and using that knowledge to find a better way forward for all. I don’t pretend to know what all the solutions are, but understanding is good start.

— Thom Barker



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