By Sabrina Almeida
To say that the recent Kamloops school discovery is ‘troubling’ is an oversimplification of what many Canadians feel about the horrors perpetuated in residential schools. To be snatched from your family never to return is an unforgivable crime that its victims may never recover from. Being a Canadian Christian is double whammy at the moment as both the Church and State were in cahoots.
Those of us who were born and raised in Western colonies like India understand how cultural racism works even though we may not have experienced the same level of trauma as the Indigenous people here. British and European colonizers believed their culture and religion were superior. So they beat the uncivilized out of us. Forced conversions followed. Goa is a prime example. During Portuguese rule there was a period of ‘inquisition” in which several Hindu temples were destroyed and churches built on these sites. Yes, we know!
Many Baby boomers and Gen Xers of Indian origin have painful memories of the caning and shaming meted out in their Christian schools. The colonists left but their inhuman practices were perpetuated by Indians, many of them religious men and women, who believed it was their responsibility to carry on the acculturation. And while students of Christian schools in Indian cities were allowed to go home, the Adivasis (Indigenous communities in India) who were trampled upon by almost everyone may have unknowingly opted for these inhuman residential schools as a way out of their misery. Unfortunately, there is no Truth and Reconciliation Committee in India that is looking to make things right for them. On the contrary, they are being persecuted because they were converted.
But the fact is that this travesty did take place. And in order to heal and move forward, those of us who were not directly responsible for it must acknowledge the crime, not bury it as was done in the past. The government and Canadian bishops have apologized. The Pope has condemned what happened but steered clear of an apology. I’m not sure why!
Ever since the gruesome discovery, the calls to cancel Canada Day events have grown louder. Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole says that doing so is unpatriotic. He believes this is the time to build Canada up, not tear it down. I somewhat agree with him. Dissing Canada is not the solution. Yet this Canada Day, and others in the future, must reflect the pain our Indigenous people are feeling.
This year’s events should be scaled down out of respect for the victims. Cancel the fireworks! Wouldn’t we do this if an important leader had passed away or the country had suffered some other tragedy? The Indigenous people were forced into submission by those who took over their land. It is time to show that we are different from those who came before us by refraining from celebrations.
Every Canada Day event should also make it a point to acknowledge the residential school horrors while outlining concrete plans for making amends. I’m not talking apologies and financial compensation but realistic ways all Canadians can acknowledge the contribution of our Indigenous people. We know little about them and therefore have little appreciation or respect for them. True reconciliation can only take place through interaction and not just adding history lessons.
All Canada Day events should also include Indigenous participation and a rededication of the country.
What we shouldn’t do is support calls to disrespect Canada. Every country has a violent history. We must acknowledge ours and find positive ways to move past it. Peaceful rallies might help make a point but disruption of events may hurt rather than support the cause. After all, for any lasting change to take place it must be a conscious and voluntary effort.