The bones come back to haunt us

June 17, 2021   ·   0 Comments

As another Canada Day approaches, we appear to be a little quieter about it than otherwise. Blame the pandemic, sure. Yet, in the shadow of the tiny bones found this May at Kamloops Indian Residential School and more on the properties of other residential schools, the tone of Canada’s colonialism must cast a cloud on the boasting Canada Day invites.

I remember in 2017, when Canadians were so excited about our 150th birthday, feeling embarrassed at the noise: 150 years is a very short history, compared to the real history of the land, which is thousands of years old and of no or little interest to most of us. Not much interest, it seemed to me, not much knowledge. Not taught much in schools.

Those 150 years were spent trying to erase from memory or knowledge, the ancient history and the people who had lived it.

There is a wide discrepancy in the time of when people migrated from Asia to the north of Canada – as wide as between 23,000 and 12,000 years. Theirs has been an oral history, faithfully passed along in stories, songs and dance. Their traditions have been partially as hunter–gatherers, following the herds.

According to Chapter seven of the Canada Guide, there were very numerous tribes and bands across the country, yet, “despite their differences, most aboriginal nations shared certain common characteristics, particularly hunter-gatherer sustenance lifestyles, deep respect for nature, egalitarian and communal social values, and deep and detailed spiritual beliefs. Many had permanent housing, farms, and stable political structures, as well as rich cultures with distinctive traditions in art, fashion, song, and dance…” 

The article goes to say that these societies lack the written word and used “superstition [as understandings]” to explain our “scientific concepts.”

History is replete with horror stories of conquest, of the endless restlessness of one nation to control and conquer another, bringing cruelty and disease on the people of the land they are invading. The conquerors are regarded as brave and heroes. Going back to Alexander the Great, a powerful young man, who pressed his armies to kill and ravage people of Asia and bring them under the rule of Greece. All that torture and death used as persuasion, still admired because they are not considered as more than the casualties of war. Today still sees the constant ravaging across the Middle East and Africa.

Combine that with the tales of genocide within a nation, the determination for a conqueror’s reasons, to change the demographic of a nation by eliminating an element of it.

Sometimes, that is not as obvious as gas chambers or all-out slaughter for all the world to see; sometimes, it is more secretive, more subtle – just children going to school – just bad luck with the water where people are allocated to live.

History is replete with both and there are no good stories.

The finding of the hidden graves of 215 children at Kamloops and “those recently uncovered on the traditional territory of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc people,” (The National Centre for the Truth and Reconciliation – NCTR) are some of our bad stories. The estimates are that, by the end of the 19th Century, about 90% of the indigenous population of this nation was wiped out by the small pox, Typhoid and influenza that the white men brought with them and for which the indigenous population had no immunity.

Our forefathers came and conquered in the worst possible way. Now, we begin to understand the depth of our legacy, for the last residential school finally closed in 1996, which keeps this tragedy lasting for 100 years, right up until recently. For all those 100 years of our 154 years, we were torturing indigenous children, keeping them from their families, ruining lives.

That is how we treated the children but what about their families, caught up in the turmoil of living on “reserves” or reservations, so- called protected areas, through which a pipe line might be run, where there is little employment or investment, where the water has not been good enough to drink for decades?

In just these very recent times, are the times when the young people are finally taking to the streets to sort out the sins of our collective past, when Save the Planet, Black Lives Matter, and “Queer” people have the right to be who they are and graves with children’s bones point to all the other injustices the Indigenous communities are facing.

This Canada Day must be that pivotal point in Canada’s history and the myriad of people coming here to seek a different and, they hope, better life here should understand this moment of history gripping the country.

This is a moment of maturity, as I see it, a time when we turn our faces away from the childish self-congratulatory mirror and look around at the damage we have done and are doing to our fellows living here and the land itself. Anyone coming here needs to understand the necessary shift from self to others and be prepared to join in.

There can be no more conquistadors.

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