So Canada’s House of Commons passed a motion last week calling on the federal government to apologize to residential school survivors. Hell, it even passed unanimously, 257-0.
Even though Conservative government MPs voted for the motion, the smoke and mirrors that Ottawa has employed for a century continues, however.
Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said a formal apology from the government is still years away, which basically means it could never happen.
And what’s to apologize for? Is it the missing children of the residential schools? Is it the century of overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of health care that lead to so many deaths of these children? Is it the fact that these children were taken so they would have a level of education that they would never have the opportunity to use? The systematic sexual abuse?
Is it the fact that it was only in the year 2000 that Canada finally adopted a limited definition of genocide, which excluded the forcible transfer of children from one culture to another (as included in UN definitions)?
Canadian courts have rejected charges of genocide against the federal government because no such laws were in effect while residential schools were operating. This argument has never been accepted under international law. To actively encourage or ensure genocide of a people has always been prosecuted without regard to whether or not there was a law within the country in question before or after the fact.
Knowing this does not lessen the degree of outrage one feels atsuch smug assertions by a court of law within Canada. It in fact not only increases it but says very clearly what some Native leaders have been saying all along. The rule of law within Canada is not the rule of law for all Canadians when First Nations are included. It is a law of the dominant society used to excuse the crimes of that society.
As First Nations we cannot expect to have a fair trial no matter what well-meaning members of the Canadian society may want or desire. Children of the world want dignity and respect and we wish to give it to them. What then does this blind spot within Canadian society and law mean? Is it the less-than-subtle racist First Nations live with?
One only has to look at the over-representation of First Nations persons in jail to understand there is something wrong. One only has to look at the statistics of missing women and the over-representation of Aboriginal heritage in those missing to know the practices of the past continue to this day.
The policy of the eradication of the North American “Indian” may not be such an overt act these days but it is nevertheless a present reality for those who lead lives that are damaged by crimes that have gone unpunished.
Yes, the actions of genocide may not be continued in the same manner but they are felt and perpetuated. One only has to look at the federal government’s suggestion we move an entire First Nations community to Timmins to realize the policy of extinguishment continues unabated though undoubtedly under a new name.