Jul. 26, 2022

Government must shoulder most blame on residential schools

The Pope’s visit sidesteps and detracts from the culpability of the federal government in this sordid mess.

I do not have a copy of the contract between the federal government and the Catholic Church but can reasonably surmise the content.

Treaties made with Indigenous people prior to and after confederation (there were eleven treaties created after confederation) indicated that Indigenous people were to be allowed to maintain their culture, language and traditions on lands set aside for them.

However, following confederation, the federal government decided that it would be easier to deal with Indigenous people if they were required to assimilate into the prevalent Judo/Christian culture in violation of the treaties.

Contracts were made with the Catholic Church (and others) to undertake the indoctrination as it was the largest religious institution at the time and had the resources to create and staff the required facilities.

The mindset was to tame the savage; to turn a segment of our society into something they were not. Fearing resistance from Indigenous adults, it was decided to focus on children thus creating a new culture for Indigenous people moving forward.

I do not condone the physical and sexual abuses some members of the Catholic Church employed. However, the mindset of reprogramming a race of undesirables created the opportunity for these people. It is part, but not the whole, of damages done.

There is validity to charges of genocide as the objective of indoctrination facilities was to erase a centuries-old culture. 

The decision to transform Indigenous people into something they were not was wrong. Ultimately the experiment failed but not without thousands of casualties of the efforts to reprogram them.

Survivors of the indoctrination centres (they were not schools) varied. While some made a transition and adopted the transformation, most did not and lived in bewilderment not accepting the transformation but having lost their traditional roots.

The federal government is still trying to avoid culpability and is making deals with individual tribes largely hidden from public view. These are not issues that can be papered over or swept under the rug. The protracted failure of the federal government to deal honestly and openly with Indigenous people has resulted in a chaotic situation wrapped in the barbs of misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

There is no constitutional or treaty basis for Indigenous sovereignty. We are one nation with a single constitution and legal system. Provision for Indigenous people to maintain their culture, languages and traditions is far different from separate sovereignty.

Many of these claims exist because of efforts by Indigenous people to get the federal government to pay attention and deal with them honestly and openly. So far, that is not taking place.  

All Canadians are parties to the treaties and reconciliation requires that everyone be fully informed of the progress of the process. The government has no authority to make binding commitments without our informed consent.

Our Prime Minister does not have the mandate to govern as he wishes. He has an obligation to provide services to the public in accordance with the subjects of federal jurisdiction set out in the constitution. Responsibility for Indigenous people and lands set aside for Indigenous people is part of that obligation to all the people of Canada, not just some.

To be blunt, our government did not deal honestly and openly with Indigenous people and must not be allowed to cover up its failures behind closed doors. That is not accountable democratic governance.