Canada's History of Denial

Article excerpt

I will never forget the first time I heard about the horror of Indian residential schools. It was 1982 and I had been commissioned to write a play for the World Assembly of First Nations. A musical combining traditional native song and dance with contemporary rock, jazz, blues, classical and operatic styles, the play was to cover 500 years of history of First Nations in North America.

My script had to be checked by elders throughout Saskatchewan, and when I told them the play was going to be presented at the magnificent mainstream Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts, many of them told me this might be a fine opportunity to finally tell the world about their experiences at "boarding school."

I had never heard about this sad chapter in Canada's history and some of the stories went way beyond what we have since learned about physical and sexual abuse, cultural genocide and the latest revelation that entire communities were used as "laboratories" with people as guinea pigs for experiments about malnutrition.

My first reaction was one of horror, then shame, then guilt, even though I knew full well I would never be a part of such atrocities and I would never support such terrible behaviour. I was pretty sure I would do everything I could to expose such a wrong and try to get it stopped and prevent it from happening in the future.

This is the natural reaction of any decent person.

But there is a major problem is all of this. And it is holding us back from dealing with the IRS experience and finding the healing we need.

I realized this when I returned home and told some of my friends about what I had learned. After an initial reaction of shock and disbelief, they were horrified, and rightfully so, because they are certainly not the kind of people who would condone that kind of behaviour.

We all agreed the impacts of the residential school experience were multi-generational and had to be dealt with, but I soon discovered most of my friends would just as soon forget about it and move on.

You see, there's kind of a stink that goes along with being the same colour or ethnic background as the perpetrators of this horror. A big stink and this is what is going to compromise whatever the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tries to do.

Because most good Canadians would prefer "denial" than face up to the fact this great country and its great people were part of such a horror. …