A National Disgrace

I had another post scheduled for today, but it was just a post about trains and that’s not terribly important to me right now, given the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC.

What I feel is important is to take more than a moment to reflect on how Canada has treated its Indigenous people over the years.

It’s terrible.

The list of harms that Canada has done to Indigenous people is long, and includes:

I am using the term “Indigenous” to speak collectively of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. My apologies if my usage of the term is incorrect. Please tell me.

But That’s Ancient History

No. It’s not.

The echoes of the 60’s Scoop and the residential school system continue today. It will take many years for Indigenous people to fully recover.

As of late 2017 in Manitoba, there were approximately 11,000 children under the care of the provincial Child and Family Services (CFS). Almost 90% of those were Indigenous. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of children under CFS’ care increased by 85%. (provincial study)

That’s something like 8-10% of all indigenous children in Manitoba.

This isn’t much different than the 60s Scoop. And it’s happening now.

Why Can’t They Just Be Equal?

I hear this all the time. Why can’t we just let bygones be bygones, and start over, fresh?

This is almost inevitably said by white people like me, who don’t understand what it’s like to be an Indigenous person in Canada.

Read this for a far better answer to that question than I can provide.

Whitewashed History

I don’t know about you, but when I went to school in the 1970s and 1980s, I heard nothing about residential schools, the 60’s Scoop, or any of the other harms done to the indigenous people of Canada.

What I was taught is that noble European explorers came to what is now Canada, found it mostly empty, shook hands with some “Indians” (as we called them then), fought other Europeans, and basically expanded to fill the empty country with civilization. The only real mention of any strife was the Red River Rebellion, with that traitor Louis Riel.

I’m very angry about the lies I was told – lies of omission, at the very least.

What We Can Do

First, do some reading. You can look at some of the links I’ve provided, or do your own research. Read the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Read the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (executive summary PDF).

Next, talk to your politicians and demand action. Some things that urgently need addressing:

Consider donating to a local or national Indigenous advocacy or support group. Canada Helps has 447 charities listed. We have been supporting one Winnipeg Indigenous charity for a while now and we’re looking for more.

Finally, speak out against racism everywhere. It’s not enough to “not be racist”. We have to speak up when those around us make racist comments or treat people differently because of their origin. It’s not OK and we need to support each other. Everyone deserves equal treatment.

Thank you for reading this. I don’t claim to have complete knowledge or all the answers – far from it – but I’m trying. I hope you do as well. I welcome your thoughtful comments – and corrections, if necessary.

2 thoughts on “A National Disgrace”

  1. It’s a good post, and you’re right to be disappointed with the history you were taught. But that’s the thing with colonialism, it affects both the colonizer and the colonized, albeit in different ways and to different degrees. Something else to think about: rethinking railway history. We all love trains, and we all know the nation-building narrative, but it hides another facet of railway development. Railway companies were granted enormous amounts of land by the government. Much of this land was accessed through treaties and often the government failed to hold up its end of the agreements. In other places, land was seized outright. It’s not surprising that railway lines are blockaded. For many Indigenous communities, railways are a permanent encroachment on their traditional territory. At the same time, railways brought new options for mobility to Indigenous people and in some places they are now vital as supply routes. As railfans, we often think of the positive in rail, but there is more to it. Four years into my PhD (impact of railway development on Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario), I am still struggling with how I view railways in Canada. Since I wrote Call of the Northland in 2014, my thinking has changed a lot and I would not write the same book now.

    • Hi Thomas, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that the history of railways in Canada is often viewed as a positive development, but for Indigenous people it was a disaster. The railways brought hundreds of thousands of settlers to the Prairie and forever changed the lives of Indigenous people.


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