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EDITORIAL: Time to own our mistakes

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

By Chris Marchand
There’s no happy ending to be had in the official end of the Indian Residential School’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There’s only an enduring lesson if we choose to learn it.

Being a white rural-Canadian living in what is basically ground zero for Canada’s Indian Residential School System, I’m disappointed to note that there remains a fair bit of divergence in opinion over something our government itself views as perhaps the most shameful mark upon our history. There remains a rift between what non-native Canadians are prepared to say in public over what they say amongst themselves on the matter.

The T&R process has not yielded that larger community discussion it had often strived to achieve. That’s unfortunate. It’s also a bit of an unreasonable expectation in a process I think will take generations to gain perspective on.

For many older Canadians who grew up in rural settings, my parents included, church-run residential schools were a fact of life for everyone. The enduring legacy of the Catholic nuns of Our Lady of LaSalette on my mother and father is that we would eventually end up Anglicans — pretty lousy ones too.

But the Indian Residential School System was a different animal. Some cling to the notion that the governments and churches that sanctioned an assimilation strategy of stripping children of their culture and family relationships, did so with the very best of intentions.

But good intentions — when based on an underlying belief that one culture, or race is inherently superior to another — become an inexcusable distortion of morality.

History does not and should not treat gently such misguided attempts at social engineering — especially when it is done by those with the authority to define the terms of justice and moral behaviour in our society.

While the churches and the federal government, have made their apologetic gestures, the hardest part remains.

That is for all Canadians to take ownership of this part of our history and stop making excuses for it.

It brings to mind a memory from university when I asked a friend, a foreign student from Japan, to talk about World War II and what school kids learn about it.

He was so overcome with a sense of shame he could not continue the conversation.

The world’s most advanced nations are marked by an unflinching examination of their past mistakes. German students tour the Nazi death camps, American students walk the killing fields of Gettysburg where their ancestors slaughtered each other to settle the question of the enslavement of human beings.

Our relatively young nation must answer the call of the Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission in one of its closing demands to develop curriculum materials for Canadian schools, to see it brought into the national consciousness so it can never again be repeated.

 

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