guest rant by arlo yuzicapi-fayant:
Well here I am recovering 36 hours after receiving the Apology.
Apparently, I appear to be one of few who felt quite unsatisfied with the long awaited and quite eloquent script from Prime Minister Stephen Harper regarding Indian Residential Schools in Canada. It was like one of those moments where one truly needs, and is ready, to sneeze and then is suddenly circumvented.
I guess it is because in any other country, these past actions would be considered genocidal, outright war crimes or just plain mean.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not doubt the sincerity in every word issued in the Apology. It brought tears to my eyes along with most everyone who witnessed this epic event at the House of Commons or on big screens throughout Canada. Or for others who faithfully reviewed and re-winded for hours on CPAC and CBC just to make sure one heard it accurately.
The pomp and pageantry just made me want to weep with pride. Especially the old Inuit doing his first drum dance ever, live on national TV with a humidex of 38 degrees to boot. And the beautiful Metis violinist who defied the code by playing something other than the Red River Jig.
The interviews with the survivors were especially poignant. I would know, I come from 4 generations of them.
What makes me crazy is they only said sorry. I should feel elated like my many relations who travelled here to our nation’s capital to hear the mea culpa in person. We have been demanding some kind of a formal apology since the 80’s and yesterday we got what we wanted. A big fat one.
I am sorry myself for expecting more. They could have said “Like okay you win, we did you wrong, messed up about 13 generations of your people, committed unethical acts of parliament and here is what we’re going to do about it to make it all better.” But no, it was more like:
“We NOW recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this.
We NOW recognize that, in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done this.
We NOW recognize that, far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled, and we apologize for failing to protect you.”
Thank goodness Indians started ranting in the early 20th century despite Indian Act legislation preventing us from doing so. Creator only knows how long it would have taken them to say “Sorry we NOW recognize…” if we had waited much longer. Like duh, till hell froze over.
Three things prompted me to write this diatribe:
On Tuesday June 10, my 16 year old daughter and I attended a fundraiser in Ottawa for the Kelly Morriseau Education Fund established by Paul Dewar, MP. NDP in cooperation with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). Mahalia had recently completed a history report on Indian Residential Schools and I wanted her to see more of the outcomes.
Kelly was a young Aboriginal woman brutally raped and left dying in Gatineau Park, Quebec in December 2006. Her killer has never been found. She leaves us with young children and much heartache. She joins many Aboriginal sisters whose deaths are no longer overlooked or forgotten due to the tireless work of NWAC and supporters.
The film “Mohawk Girls” by award-winning director Tracey Deer was screened followed by an up close and personal chat with Tracey and NWAC president Beverly Jacobs. The documentary looks at the lives of three Mohawk teens that grew up on the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve near Montreal. The National Film Board documentary won 'Best Documentary' prize at ImagineNative, Canada's most important Aboriginal film festival.
After a heart-felt speech by Ms. Jacobs, enjoyable commentary by Ms. Deer, my companion Sylvia Smith (teacher) was asked to share a few words for Project of Heart, an interactive hands-on approach to educating students, church groups and active citizens about the travesty and legacy of Canadian Indian residential schools. For each child who died or went missing in Residential Schools, the participants in the Project of Heart paint a tiny tile to commemorate that child’s spirit and if possible, a name. It is expected the tiles will number in excess of 50,000 when assembled.
Sylvia told the audience how most of the people (students, average citizens etc) she works with in Project of Heart share similar questions – WHEN did this happen? WHAT are we apologizing for? WHY don’t we know this? This struck home for me. We know about the holocaust, when JFK was assassinated, Japanese interment camps and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ but have barely a clue as to why our first peoples are the way we are… The most an average school child knows is that we invented wigwams and popcorn.
The second event that motivated me to say something was the fact I and most of my group could not attend most of the June 11th Apology festivities and hoopla in down town Ottawa. We were in our last stages of trying to heal from residential school, either as a student or as a child of a survivor, or other traumas due to our lot in life as Aboriginal women. Each week, we tell our own stories and we make every effort to attend each session to support each other, even if it means foregoing the excellent catering at the Westin Hotel and opportunities for 10 second sound bites about our residential school impact.
These circles are where the real healing and forgiveness has to occur. Not in the House of Commons with scripted speeches nor with huge individual cash settlements that are likely to kill the remaining survivors who haven’t yet died of old-age and a hard life.
So last night I watched every Apology broadcast after my return from healing. I was envious of who was all there because in my past life I knew them or had helped them in some way. I wanted to be there up front and center with a designer dress (equivalent to one month’s welfare) or even a head dress. I wanted to shed a tear on national TV and be broadcast around the world.
I wanted my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my parents to be there, all giving poignant statements about their abuse and survival. I wanted my children and grandchildren there to report what a horrible mother and matriarch I was because I didn’t know how to give a real hug if I was paid a hundred dollars for each attempt, because back in the day hugs were a bad thing.
But alas, the old ones are all dead, except the birthmother, who is just simply damaged beyond repair. Most of my young ones don’t give a shit what has happened for 150 years unless it makes a nice tattoo. I went to bed quite grumpy.
Third motivator is this: Here in Ottawa we have a phone in show on CBC from 1:00 – 2:00 pm covering topics such as the Apology, gardening pests, Alanis Morrisette, recycling, etc. The question was: what is your reaction to Stephen Harper’s apology? I have to give them kudos for their coverage on residential schools though, so much I am totally saturated and just want to listen to BOB-FM and songs from the 80’s for awhile…
They announce the call-in number once every hour or you may have to e-mail for it 2 days in advance. I ended up phoning CBC’s corporate headquarters and went through the whole press #1 for this and press #9 for that and finally got through on a local line. I was asked my name, phone number and what my comment would be.
I said I was pretty disappointed with the Apology, where was the rest? What about the offspring of the survivors, where was our sorry? She said I am putting your through right now, and she did – me - immediately live on air.
At this point I turned into a blithering slightly ranting Cree woman on a Thursday afternoon with no purpose in life other than to commend Dion, Duceppe, and Layton for stating what really should have been said. The guest speaker immediately informed me for about all the virtues of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and talked about this for awhile.
Eventually, I was able to interject how it was supposed to be the listeners’ time to state their reactions I mentioned I was the first generation not to have to attend residential school and I was still pretty damaged.
I did share that when my boys were fighting (I have four) they were put on the couch and couldn’t get off until they were sorry. Not to SAY they were sorry, but to BE sorry. Then I was pre-empted by a beautiful sounding young woman who made a documentary about residential school survivors, especially her granny. DVD available at Chapters.
I was sad because everyone else that called in was so encouraged by the Apology and had heart-felt tales of their abuse and fond wishes for this move to heal our peoples. I did not see one comment on any channels of people who said “this is BS!” We had this mapped out years ago for Kelowna and how many tax-dollars and lives would this have saved in Canada if not for a certain party’s “intervention”?
In my opinion, we should not be kicking our heels up in glee because we finally got a “We’re Sorry”. We likely have to vote PC for the next 7 generations out of mere gratitude for this momentous apology and awesome finger food. Nope, I’m going to hang out and wait for the “Please Forgive Us”.
Arlo Yuzicapi Fayant, retired activist, Ottawa