Why silence greeted Stephen Harper's residential-school apology

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      Although I was greatly surprised at the length and depth to which Prime Minister Stephen Harper went in his apology to residential-school survivors, I was also dismayed by the things that were blatantly absent. It was clear that if Harper had consulted the other three party leaders who were elected by voters to represent their interests as Canadians, his apology would have been much closer to what it needed to be.

      This was made clear by the applause that the other leaders garnered and the silence that followed Harper’s speech in many community venues across the country. The silence was indicative of what was lacking and how much more needs to be done before survivors and their descendants can applaud the efforts of the government of Canada.

      Even the Aboriginal leaders who were the honoured guests were stunned into near silence by what I can only assume were their own family connections to the overwhelming pain that arose during the day. At a time when the prime minister could have demonstrated a true commitment to forging a new relationship with aboriginal people, he chose not to work with their leaders or residential-school survivors to develop the apology.

      I can only imagine how meaningful the apology would have been to the aboriginal community if he had chosen to walk the walk instead of talk the talk of reconciliation.

      Some of the important things that the prime minister chose not to share with Canadians include the destruction of the cultural and spiritual traditions that would have helped our communities to recover from the residential-school experiences and the learned negative behaviours of violence, women-hating, homophobia, and elder abuse.

      While the other party leaders filled in many of the gaps—including the importance of what happens next, Canada’s refusal to sign on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the ongoing intergenerational effects, and the continued racist attitudes that see our children being taken into government “care” at alarming rates—three of the most important things were not mentioned by anyone.

      These are: the importance of providing meaningful opportunities for our youth, who make up more than 60 percent of the aboriginal population; the spiritual abuse that took place; and the lack of education in these so-called schools.

      Few people realize the broader effects that the residential-school experience has had on our communities beyond the overwhelming destruction of our families and individual lives. If the assimilationist policies of the Canadian government had not destroyed or severely compromised the systems that our ancestors had developed in the areas of negotiating, governance, caring for the land, and child-rearing, we would not be facing many of the broader community issues that we are today.

      Many of these issues have forced the migration of many of our people away from their homelands and into the urban setting. Statistics Canada reports that more than 60 percent of the aboriginal community now lives in urban settings.

      After the apology, I was honoured to attend student celebrations at Vancouver’s two alternate schools. Although I was so proud to see these young people in school, I was also struck by the realization that the need for alternate schools stems directly from the residential-school experience.

      I believe that the main reasons our youth do not do well academically or socially in mainstream schools is because of the lack of respect in our communities for education. This is due to the learned fear of educational institutions, the social issues we face that stem from Canadian assimilation policies, and the racism that persists throughout this country as nonaboriginal people judge us for those social issues we are forced to overcome due to all of the external forces that led to them.

      Research reports such as the Cedar Project—historical trauma, sexual abuse, and HIV risk among young aboriginal people who use injection and noninjection drugs in two Canadian cities—clearly show the link of the ongoing multigenerational effects of the residential-school experience on our young people. So when we talk about truth and reconciliation, we must remember to include the effects that are still being experienced by most of our young people.

      Though I hope this is the dawn of a new day for Canadian and aboriginal relations, I am reminded of the six-year struggle we have faced to build a Native youth centre in Vancouver. Prime Minister Harper acknowledges the ongoing effects of the residential-school experience but has not made any meaningful commitment to foster positive change, especially for our young people.

      Although we have secured $6 million, including the land, the government of Canada and the Province of B.C. have yet to make any meaningful contribution to this important youth-led initiative that has overwhelming community support and would help youth to make meaningful changes in their lives.

      As many have stated, it will take much more than an apology to help our communities move beyond the dark times that many of us are facing as a direct result of the residential-school experience.

      Lynda Gray is the executive director of the Urban Native Youth Association.

      Comments

      7 Comments

      Travis Lupick

      Jun 20, 2008 at 12:00pm

      <em>Submitted via e-mail:</em>

      In Support of Aboriginal Rights in Canada:

      For centuries the plight of the Indigenous Peoples throughout the Americas (both North and South)and around the world.

      Have seccumbed to degradation,discrimination and the abolishment of their language,customs and their inherit right to self-determination. Since the arrival of Columbus,in 1492 there have been systematic prejudice,gross human rights violations,the destruction of native culture and the annihilation of Native Lands that still exists in the 21st Century! We cannot turn back the clock,to the injustices that occurred during the past 517 years.

      However, we can only move forward and reconcile our differences but it is not enough to simply put into words. Positive actions must be taken to ensure that generations to follow can live in the spirit of peace and dignity.

      It bothers me that our own government,under the leadership of Stephen Harper, has missed an open opportunity to implement the Kelowna Accord which was set forth by the Hon. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin.

      The basis of this agreement was to improve the education,employment,strengthening and closing the gap of poverty which exists for those living on reserves.
      There is more to this agreement,the money used ($5 Billion over a 10 year period) on this piece of document, would have been a stepping stone for improved relations between the Assembly of First Nations and Ottawa. However, according to the Conservatives the government could not implement the accord was because it was a violation of Section 54 in the Constitutional Act of 1867,for it deemed as a Private Members Bill.

      Under Section 54 of the Constitutional Act of 1867 states:

      "It shall not be lawful for the House of Commons to adopt or pass any Vote, Resolution, Address, or Bill for the Appropriation of any Part of the Public Revenue, or of any Tax or Impost,to any Purpose that has not been first recommended to that House by Message of the Governor General in the Session in which such Vote, Resolution, Address, or Bill is proposed."

      To allocate $450 Million for the Tories first budget and to earmark an additional $600 Million in a one time housing and territorial funding,to my opinion is a slap in the face. Clearly,as one can see that this is a contradiction by the Tories for their position of Aboriginal Rights in Canada. For they have not signed the Universal Declaration of Aboriginal and Indigenious Human Rights,set forth by the U.N.

      There are two points I wish to make:

      1) If the Tory Government are in fact sincere of promoting Aboriginal Rights in this country.
      They've would have implemented the Kelowna Accord with the stipulations that were first negotiated by then Prime Minister Martin. The state of Aboriginal Affairs would have significantly improved.

      2) My perspective on the Residential School Apology by Harper's Government, could only be deemed as a further insult to injury. Having not implementing the Kelowna Accord and the Universal Declaration of Aboriginal and Indigenious Human Rights,the Tories once again contradicted themselves by their inactions of taking a double-standard on Aboriginal Rights
      in this country.

      My personal opinion is that no amount money can ease the pain and suffering for the survivors and their families.

      What the Aboriginal Communties from across Canada is demanding all along is concrete action of building the infrastructure and the foundation for the preservation of the culture,language and livelihood of People of the First Nations.To sustain traditional way of life,one that gives back a sense of pride to the younger generation is what is needed.

      Thank you Lynda for opening up the eyes of the public.

      Sincerely,
      Simon Leung

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      ubuntulistener

      Jun 21, 2008 at 1:12pm

      Silence greeted...

      Did the silence have anything to do with Harper making an excuse, "...well intended...", thereby showing that he didn't get it, and maybe didn't even bother to write the apology himself?

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      sicntired

      Jun 22, 2008 at 2:02am

      Stephen Harper tore up the Kelowna accord as soon as he took office.He may find his apology deemed to be politically correct and I'm surprised at the acceptance by the native people.They will find that the apology is as far as Harper intends to go.All he cares about is how he looks to the public.This government is as full of racists as any we have had in this country since it's inception.

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      Student

      Dec 16, 2009 at 9:22pm

      I was wondering, was Stephen Harper even involved during the time of the residential schools? If not, then how can he feel sorry for something he did not do? Is he the wrong guy....

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      Bob

      Jan 16, 2013 at 8:36pm

      I feel that the apology was insincere garbage.

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      Roy Berger

      Nov 26, 2013 at 10:06am

      I understood that Harper ordered the letter posted in every high school in Canada. But I don't see it. It would help if students could see it. The letter is a departure point for discussion.

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      Malawi

      Jun 2, 2015 at 7:28pm

      By the tone of these comments, it seems people are more upset with Harper, for no other reason than because it's Harper. In other words, I don't think it would matter what he said or did, it would never be good enough for you. As an immigrant to Canada, you have no idea how proper the government is here compared to many other nations. That's why we wanted to come to Canada. You should be ashamed of yourselves for complaining like you. do

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