Diversity Week

Dealing with the "Indian" Problem

Staff Writer

The Indian residential school system was a government initiative intended to achieve “aggressive assimilation.” Ultimately, the aim of the Indian residential school system was cultural genocide. Dr. Duncan Campbell Scott in 1920 referred to my ancestors as an “Indian problem” that Canada needed to rid itself of. He stated, “… I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada…” Dr. Scott, the Canadian poet and deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs, failed to see that instead of promoting assimilation, advocating diversity would have enriched the lives of all Canadians.

For generations, Aboriginal children were ripped from their families and placed into residential schools where they were taught to forget their language, their culture, their values, their families, and to leave their identities, the very essence of who they are, at the door. Tragically, children in these schools were subjected to alarming rates of physical, sexual and mental abuse. Children died in residential schools. Some of their families were never notified. There are also an untold number of “missing” children who simply disappeared after being taken away from their families. To this day their whereabouts are unknown.

Today, many residential school survivors and their descendants have been robbed of their identity and know very little about their Aboriginal ancestors. Generation after generation, families have been living with the effects of the residential school system. Parents have trouble showing affection to their children and families cannot understand why their loved ones abuse alcohol and drugs. The suicide rates on reserves are even more saddening. It is unimaginable that a young child can feel so unloved that the only way they can see to end their suffering would be to take their own life. However, in the face of the destructive policy of assimilation and cultural genocide, Aboriginal people have shown resilience and perseverance. We are still here. We are still fighting. We are still healing.

Aboriginal identity and values represent the strength of our culture. Aboriginal people cannot begin to heal without knowing who they are as a Raké:ni, Ista,Tiakení:teron, Rakshótha or Akshótha. Part of finding our voice means sharing our experience with our loved ones. Far too often, community members are ashamed to speak about their residential school experience, and children and grandchildren grow up not knowing what happened to their family and ancestors.

Canadians play an important role in the healing of residential school victims. It is important that all Canadians recognize and accept what their forefathers and this country failed to accomplish. Most Canadians find it hard to believe that Canada, a nation rich in diverse cultures, once tried to rid an entire race of people. This is a very real and disturbing part of Canadian history. What many Canadians also fail to realize is that by attempting to eradicate “Indians”, Canadians were robbed of sharing in the richness of my people. The opportunity to benefit from the knowledge, teachings, and principles that we live by were denied to them. Diversity matters and only through education can we share what happened so it will never happen again.

For more information on residential schools, visit the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada website: www.trc.ca