By Michael Lashley
Dear Fellow Canadians:
I want you to know there are many justifiable reasons that led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to describe the experiences and the consequences of the residential schools as “cultural genocide”.
While those reasons were set out in great detail in the Summary Report released two days ago (June 2), I encourage you to examine the massive collection of visual reasons online at google.ca when you enter the search phrase “images of residential schools”. Four images caught my attention as graphic reflections of cultural genocide.
Look at the first image in the second row of aboriginal children kneeling on their beds in prayer. Then scroll down to the image of a T-shirt with the words “Residential School Survivor: They did not kill the “Indian” in me”. Next, focus on the copy of a news item headlined “Native kids “used for experiments”. You may end your journey by reading the contents of the statistical document titled “A Dark Legacy”.
One of the main messages conveyed by those images is properly reflected in the actual wording of the Summary Report to the effect that “establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of (Canada’s aboriginal) policy, which can best described as ‘cultural genocide’.” That is one hell of a statement about our country’s past!
So that is the past and we cannot and dare not be so irresponsible as to deny, change or rewrite the past.
For my part, however, I want to stress that we can take concrete action in the present to build a more wholesome and certainly less painful future.
The full report of the commission will be issued in due course and is the result of six years of work, travelling across the country, listening to testimony of nearly 7,000 witnesses and poring through thousands of pages of documentation.
Out of respect for all of that hard work and given the major national importance of the subject matter, I put before you, Fellow Canadians, a select list of what I consider to be some of the crucial points raised.
First and foremost, the specific issue of the residential schools and the broader issue of the rights and needs of our aboriginal peoples are not aboriginal problems. They are Canadian problems. That is why the commission addresses its recommendations to the different levels of government, the schools, the churches, the organizations, the aboriginal governments and to Canadian society at large.
It calls for more apologies from the Pope and leaders of the clergy for the abuse suffered in residential schools run by the religious authorities.
Moreover, the Summary Report goes on to emphasize that for “reconciliation to thrive in the coming years, Canada must move from apology to action.” It adds that reconciliation is not a one-time event but rather a “multi-generational journey that involves all Canadians.”
The various stages of that necessary journey are outlined in the 94 recommendations of the Summary Report and have also been explored several times in previous editions of The Caribbean Camera. I need not repeat here my own analysis and recommendations in those past editions.
What I will do is add another dimension to the formal procedures that may be particularly appropriate now the Summary Report has been issued and the full report is on the way.
I am of the view that the federal government should undertake the following course of action, in addition to the substantive measures recommended by the commission: lay the Summary Report before Parliament and move a motion that both houses of Parliament (i) take due note of the document; (ii) urge all provincial and municipal governments to fully engage in the corrective and restorative process; and (iii) that Parliament set up a bicameral, all-party body to address consideration and implementation of the recommendations.
That will demonstrate publicly governmental recognition of the enormity of the damage caused by residential schools and will confirm acceptance of the federal government’s responsibility for setting in motion the corrective and restorative measures and structures required of all Canadian institutions, public and private, and of all Canadian citizens and residents.