Canada is in an identity crisis, and Canadians are appalled

Hill Times June 7, 2021

OTTAWA—Warning: this story contains distressing details.

Following the announcement of the mass grave of 215 Indigenous children unearthed at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, Canada is in an identity crisis and Canadians are appalled. But the federal government continues its passive aggressive resistance to the truth.

The Department of Indigenous Affairs, by whatever name it happens to call itself today, reacts with a passive refusal to respond to the needs of Indigenous peoples—couched in bureaucratic delay and callousness. When faced with requests for funding for basic health needs for First Nations children, it dragged its feet for a decade. When more First Nations applied for their status cards to access health funding, the department appears to stall those applications for years. And this is the tendency of this department—just the minimal amount, like systemic underfunding. If other Canadians were served by this department, there would have been a mutiny.

Just to spice things up, at times this department reverts to all-out-war. The department responsible for reconciliation sicked its lawyers against the survivors of St. Anne’s residential school in Ontario. In short, provincial prosecutions in 1992 documented some of the most horrible incidents of abuse at this school including use of an electric chair on children, and the federal government kept the documents from the case.

When survivors of St. Anne’s testified for their rightful reparations in the residential school settlement years later, the federal government hid the documents, so directly interfered with the amounts of reparations that survivors might receive. After a provincial court ordered the release of documents, civil servants finally gave them up. But the lawyers are still fighting the survivors to reopen their reparations cases. This is your government.

The government is also fighting Jordan’s Principle, the simple notion that Indigenous kids have the right to receive equitable health and social services as any other child. There are 19 non-compliance orders, “willful neglect,” said the Human Rights Tribunal. Yes, your government again.

The federal government is fighting a class-action lawsuit by residential school survivors for the loss of language and culture through residential schools, saying there really wasn’t “one residential school policy.” Let’s be clear: it’s bullshit. Residential schools were known for their cemeteries located right next to them because the federal government refused to pay for the return of children’s bodies to their families. It’s callousness beyond belief and written policy. There were more than enough written policies about residential schools, if only because residential schools were surprisingly effective in achieving the goal to “kill the Indian in the child.”

When public health hero Peter Bryce went out to research the allegations of deaths in residential schools in the early 1900s, the equivalent of deputy minister Duncan Campbell Scott responded to Bryce’s horrifying data that some schools had more than a 50 per cent death rate with this memorable piece: “It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habitating so closely in these schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this department, which is geared towards the final solution of our Indian problem.”

Scott didn’t receive any punishment for making this genocidal statement because it was a fully accepted doctrine by John A. Macdonald, Egerton Ryerson, and others who cooked up the residential school scheme. It’s simple Canadian history.

During the June 1 debate in the House, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett avoided any substantive response on why they continue to fight Indigenous survivors and kids. On June 3, when opposition parties pressed further with questions, parliamentary secretaries continued dodged any real debate by offering old speeches and just enough painful details to seem like they care. But it’s still a dodge, just with Indigenous trauma held up like a shield to accountability. “Hypocritical,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in response.

The most repugnant fact of this crisis in Canada’s identity is the use of the word “school.” There is no “school” in genocide. Children as young as three years old were stolen from their parents’ arms, shipped out of communities sometimes in cattle trucks, stripped of their clothing, and sometimes beaten for the most trivial of acts. Many children were killed in the most unthinkable ways. Theses were not schools. They were concentration camps, fully and blatantly intended as a final solution to the Indian problem.

The fact that some students had a positive experience does not negate the criminal intent of the policy nor the hundreds of thousands of stories of abuse and death.

The stories will be told and they will be terrible to hear. You are asked to witness. Now that you know, do you accept the federal government’s passive aggressive response to Indigenous citizens? Because they think you support their callousness, and they won’t change until Canadians from coast to coast to coast stand up and yell. From Liberal to Conservative, the trend is the same. It is the federal government itself that is the distressing factor in Canada’s identity crisis.