Wednesday, February 21, 2018

NAHM 2017 - The Apology

There has been about a twenty year period in which Canada has technically made progress on its stance on indigenous people. I am counting this from a series of residential school recommendations made to the government in 1996 to Justin Trudeau removing Canada's objector status to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) in 2016. It includes some class action suits and the Common Experience Fund payouts referred to in earlier posts. What I want to focus on is the 2008 apology. Yes, the Canadian government, in the form of then Prime Minister Steven Harper, apologized for the residential school system.

This is not unheard of. The US government has officially apologized for slavery, internment of the Japanese during World War II, the Tuskegee experiment, and overthrowing Hawaii. In this case, it was a class assignment to listen to and write about Harper's apology.

The first thing that none of us could help but notice is the lack of responsibility government. Everything was stated in a passive sense, as if the schools were not carrying out government policy and it were not a policy that was based on racism and greed.

I suspect some of that is  "Well it wasn't us personally who did it." At the start, no, but for some of the things that continued, there could very well be sitting members of their legislature who were involved. That's the one thing you keep finding when you look at history; the past is closer than you think.

There is probably some desire to wash hands of it: "We agree this is bad and we aren't going to do it anymore, so lay off, all right?" White people get really uncomfortable when you talk about horrible things done because of racism. If you keep things distant and neutral enough, maybe that can make them less uncomfortable, though my memory of any government apology is that some people get really mad about them.

The thing I really noticed though, was how one-way it was.

No, that does not mean that I think both sides should have been apologizing, but I do think the one that is admitting wrong should at least consider listening to those wronged about what they would like done.

I'm sure there are concerns about expenses; we can't even get the United States Congress to agree to study reparations, let alone pay them. Beyond that, I suppose there could be some fears about the practicality of possible requests:

- We want you all to go back to Europe.
- We want to release smallpox on your population.
- We want to take away all the children you are clearly unfit to raise.

(That last one is not just a reference to the residential schools, but also the practice of taking children for adoption and fostering, prevalent from the 1950s through the 1980s, not really ancient history.)

I don't think the bulk of indigenous people would be likely to say anything like that, though I can imagine the 1491s coming up with some great comic material related to it. It would also be possible, in the face of a sincere request that would disrupt all life as we know it, to then look for a compromise, or an end goal that can be worked toward that benefits everyone.

I do think we need to make a room to hear anger though. Maybe you will hear more sadness than anger, which can also be uncomfortable. We still need to make room to listen to it.

The bad feelings are still there. If the dominant group is able to ignore them, and wants to continue that by plastering over things, that's just putting a nice surface over rot. We have to do better than that.

I have this segue in mind from Indigenous American issues to issues of sexual harassment and abuse that I should get to Monday.

Until then, well, you can probably draw a few connections on your own.

Just think about it.

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