Archive for June, 2015

Residential School Victims: First Nations and Otherwise

The release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report, makes over ninety recommendations to provide solutions for what happened in Canada from the 1880’s until 1996 in the Indian Residential School System.

What it doesn’t mention, is that although the system primarily victimized aboriginal children, by it’s dysfunctional nature and the physical isolation of the schools, there were also casualties among the teachers and administrators who served on the front lines. Although these victims have yet to be heard from, the novel Blue Saltwater touches upon this with the predatory, alcoholic and suicidal behavior of Brother Denny Boyle, the antagonist in the story.

As Canada and the United States became populated with a dominant European culture in the nineteenth century, North American aboriginal tribes were seen to be languishing in poverty, shame and cultural disintegration. Well meaning and respected educators, clergy and government officials proposed this system as a way of elevating aboriginal children to a more assimilated and productive existence. It was thought that by removing the children from the primitive ways of their culture, changes would be more rapid and permanent. But as everyone acknowledges now, even though well intentioned, forcibly removing children from their families was a catastrophic failure in social engineering.  

Raising Public Awareness

The story of Canada’s Indian Residential School System has been front and centre in the news this past few weeks with the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report. It contained over 90 recommendations and it will be interesting going forward to see how many are acted upon.

Through the media, I have already heard educators and executives of the TRC proposing to rewrite textbooks for elementary schools, high schools and universities so they contain additional chapters detailing the findings of the commission. This is all being proposed to raise awareness in future generations. Wrong!

As I helped my granddaughter with a grade eleven social studies assignment on Canada’s role in WW II the other day, she said: : “I won’t remember any of this after I hand it in, grandpa.”

That’s my point. The most effective way to raise awareness is through effective storytelling rather than having kids answer questions from a textbook. These days the best vehicles are either online, television or movies. Good novels can work but with so many alternatives, their penetration with the younger audience can be a challenge. Think of the movie, Saving Private Ryan, as a good example. Raising Awareness of what happened on D-Day by watching this movie is much more effective than reading a dry account of dates, times, locations and casualty counts in a textbook.  


Truth and Reconciliation Commmission: Final Report

After six years of receiving testimony from 7000 witnesses and survivors of the Indian Residential Schools across Canada, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission under the leadership of Justice Murray Sinclair will deliver its final 300 page report on June 2, 2015.

The commission was established by the federal government and aboriginal leadership in June 2010 with high hopes that it would help repair the relationship between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada. Sadly this hasn’t happened.

The Residential School System which was started in the 1880’s and shut down in 1996, forcibly removed aboriginal children from their families with the mandate to change them into productive assimilated Canadians. The system has been referred to as “cultural genocide” by both Justice Sinclair and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Over the years 150,000 children attended the schools and it is estimated that over 6000 of them died. Many were buried in unmarked graves and are still unaccounted for.

The story of Blue Saltwater attempts to put a face to those anonymous thousands of innocent children who were torn from their families and abused in the schools.

The dysfunctional effects continue to this day.