Canada Is Haunted by Colonialism

By Henry, Jennifer | Winnipeg Free Press, May 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

Canada Is Haunted by Colonialism


Henry, Jennifer, Winnipeg Free Press


CANADA is often seen as a bastion of prosperity, human rights and freedoms. But news about missing and murdered indigenous women, woefully inadequate health care on reserves, and UN reports that highlight "distressing socio-economic conditions" for indigenous peoples in Canada stand in sharp contrast to this narrative.

This news, however, highlights what many First Nations, Metis and Inuit already know: Canada for them is a place of racism, poverty and inequity.

Changing this reality will require acknowledging and addressing an ugly ghost -- our colonial history -- because its legacy haunts us still.

From the 1870s to the 1990s, indigenous children were removed from their homes and placed in Indian residential schools. Funded by the federal government and run by churches, the objective of these schools was to "kill the Indian in the child" in a national project of assimilation. For more than five years, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), residential school survivors have shared their devastating experiences of fear, loss, dislocation and abuse.

Some students were forbidden to speak their languages and taught their cultures and faith were substandard and invalid because they were not European or Christian. At the same time, non-indigenous Canadians were taught indigenous peoples were inferior.

And this happened generation after generation.

It wasn't always this way. Many indigenous peoples agreed to share the land with European settlers, sometimes formalizing this partnership in treaties. Indigenous peoples typically lived up to their end of these agreements, while the settlers and their descendants did not. These treaties are still binding.

Now, indigenous and non-indigenous people have a new opportunity to work toward right relationship -- a relationship built on mutual respect. The TRC began in 2010 and closes May 31-June 3 in Ottawa. In Winnipeg, Inuvik, Halifax, Saskatoon, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton we learned about the schools' intergenerational legacy, the manifestation of colonization.

We now have much of the truth. We also have the hope for reconciliation. To realize this hope and end the deplorable conditions facing indigenous peoples, we need concrete action that transforms attitudes and public policies. …

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