Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Aboriginal Survivors of Day Schools Sue For Compensation

Most Canadians are aware that Prime Minister Harper apologized publicly to the survivors of residential schools for years of physical and sexual abuse, as well as the near destruction of Aboriginal culture, all in the name of supposedly civilizing First Nation peoples.  A settlement was offered by both the Catholic Church and the government, in an attempt to compensate for the wrongs that they committed. While many Canadians view this as a terrible time in our history, they have a tendency to view this as a closed issue.
The issue with this settlement is that it only covers those that were in residential schools and fails to acknowledge that those that attended day school were equally hurt.  Having the ability to return home at the end of each day does not erase the fact that during school hours the children were humiliated, abused and prevented from learning or practicing their cultural norms.
Robert Sayine, a former MLA and chief, attended both St. Joseph's residential school and day school in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., when he was young.
He was compensated for the time he spent at residential school, but not for the three years he spent attending day school while still living at St. Joseph's.
Sayine said the government's refusal to pay him for his day-school years is wrong. He welcomes the opportunity to join the class-action suit, spearheaded by Spirit Wind, a non-profit organization based in Manitoba.
"You know, the discipline was the same — the curriculum, the school, the teachers were also the same," Sayine told CBC News.
The government should not be able to decide that simply because one returned home at the end of the day that what occurred was not damaging. If we are going to attempt to mediate the damages that happened, we need to own every single horror that was committed against our First Nations citizens.  
A statement of claim was officially launched on Friday after being blessed in a traditional pipe ceremony.  According to CTV, in Manitoba there are between 30-40 thousand survivors of these day schools.  There were approximately 130 of the schools nationwide. Despite the horror that occurred, far too many Canadians believe that because these schools are now closed, that everyone is equal now and that any failure to succeed is solely the fault of the individual.

The following are from the comment section of the CBC:
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 imageInstead of owning the fact that these residential schools are partly responsible for many of the issues that continue plague Aboriginal peoples, many are content to victim blame.   If one is dealing with post traumatic stress, how can one possibly just get over it and get a job? The first commenter spoke about a sense of entitlement as though First Nations people should be ashamed of asking for compensation, after suffering all of the horrors that they did.   The only shame is that these events occurred and that Canadian people seem to think that after stealing land, abusing children and damn near obliterating a people no form of redress should be imposed.  The reality of the situation is that no matter how much money the government pays out, much more needs to be done to ensure a better quality of life for our First Nations citizens.  No matter how many times the government or the Church apologizes, we can never erase the harm that was done in this so-called civilizing project.
We sit in our comfortable homes today because of a great historical wrong.  The longer we perpetuate this evil by failing to acknowledge it for what it is, the greater the damage we continue to inflict.  Simply hiding behind social Darwinism and claiming survival of the fittest removes the last vestiges of humanity and civilization that we claim to hold so dear.  Canadians hold very dearly to the myth that we are uniquely good to people of color and exist with a culture that is not racist and yet every opportunity we are offered to display the morals we claim to be a part of the fabric of our society, inevitably racism bears its ugly head.  We deny that we are splintered, we deny that white privilege continues to be an issue, and we deny that crimes against people of color not only occurred but continue to occur all in the name of maintaining an undeserved privilege.  We hesitate to air our dirty laundry as though the world does not already know that that our beloved maple leaf is tarnished.  We are no different than any other Western country and our failure to own our crimes continues to ensure that we can not be a leader when it comes to healing racial discord or standing as an example as a truly equal society.