What the hell are you thinking? One white, non-residential school raised, woman of age and experience to another. Seriously. What the hell are you thinking?
This CBC news article crossed my feeds this morning. And here is the transcript of the debate. For some time, I thought, I’ll just let aboriginal Canadians fill you in. After all, the residential school experience is their story to tell. Then I thought, oh no white lady who never had to go through residential school, you are mine. You walk around in that skin, looking like me, reaping all the privilege that your powerful position and your colour lays upon your doorstep. No. You are mine. Why should other people have to deal with you?
So, you want to “focus on the good” of the residential school experience. You want people to look at the silver lining. Some children received an education. Some children learned valuable lessons about Jesus. Some adopted the Christian faith and still follow it. Some have told you about the good experiences they had in residential school.
Sure. Of course, that’s true. That is as true as any of the following statements: “Some African slaves weren’t beaten and whipped by their masters.”; “Some black males in America earn a wage equal to the white males that they work with.”; “Some girls are not at risk for honour killing.”; “Some Jewish people in Europe were not put to death at Auschwitz.”, “Some aboriginal Canadians have access to clean, safe drinking water.”, “All lives matter.”
These statements all clearly miss the point. Just as your statements have missed the point. Your statements minimize the experiences of thousands and thousands of aboriginal children who were ripped away from their families (many by police officers who had a duty to protect them from harm), forced to learn English (or French), not allowed to speak their own mother tongue, not permitted to participate in their culture and traditions, not permitted to practice their faith, raped, sodomized, beaten, underfed, and not provided proper medical care, to name just a few of the sins that were inflicted whether or not by “well intentioned religious teachers” or paedophiles without a single good intention. This forced integration and the denial of the child’s culture, language and customs was done under threat of torture and actual torture.
Your statements minimize the impact that snatching children away had on the families and communities that were left behind, not only on the mothers and fathers who had no child left to parent but on the generations that would come after. The depression, the substance dependence, the loss of faith in systems that are meant to protect people, the distrust of systems that are meant to provide justice and fairness, the loss of culture and language, the trauma, the PTSD, … all in the name of “civilizing” an entire group of people that we “well-intentioned” white folk never understood to begin with. Hell, we never tried. We just decided to impose our European culture on them, because that had to be better, right?
Your statements smack of righteousness and privilege and that, my dear white woman, is an extension of the very problem that got us here. Our righteousness as a race. Our damned privilege. In a time when we should be focused on healing, on righting the wrongs, on reconciling our horrid history with a new and better future, your kind of “silver lining”, “Not every…”, “but good intentions…” thinking is an embarrassment.
You seem to suggest… no. You DO suggest that the ends justify the means. We should focus on the end (which YOU say is good) and not so much with how we got there. While you barely acknowledge the massive bad that happened, you seem to suggest that it’s okay because in your mind, some good came of it. No. Just NO. The END that you refer to was based on the premise that the cultures, languages and traditions of the aboriginal peoples of this nation were not worth preserving and had to be forcibly replaced with European culture, language, practices and attitudes by any MEANS necessary.
I’m not even going to go near the forced indoctrination of religion, which you say is so valuable except to say – forced indoctrination of anything, anything at all is never valuable.
Too many white folks have no idea what their white privilege actually means and the impact that it can have when it’s just out there – all ignorance in the wind. Here’s the thing. In the recent history of Canada, white folks were never stolen en masse from their families, they never had their language and culture made into a dirty, dirty thing that had to be destroyed as ‘savage’, they were never undermined and demeaned in the way that aboriginal peoples were. No matter what experience we have, no matter how hard we try, we can never truly understand the full impact of what we’ve done to the original peoples of this nation. We cannot because we are not them. We are not living their lives. We are not sharing their experience. We can empathize. We can (and should) feel the shame of it. We can damned well listen. We can try to make it better by actually learning from our behaviour but we cannot stand in the shoes of the survivors and say “well, look at it this way…” and we damned sure cannot dismiss what was done by saying “mistakes were made.”
These weren’t mistakes. This was deliberate action, deliberate choice by the dominant race on a minority race. Not a damned mistake. Not well intended.
Let’s go back to near the beginning. Claiming the false “good intentions” argument along with the “but some…” argument is like saying: “Some African slaves weren’t beaten and whipped by their masters but the goal of building a nation is good anyway so the fact that it was accomplished on the backs of enslaved human beings is of little consequence.”; “Some black males in America earn a wage equal to the white males that they work with so we can ignore the impact that poverty, institutional racism, and over-representation in prison has had on the equality of black males because a few have attained pay equity.”; “Some girls are not at risk for honour killing and good girls who strictly obey their families actually improve the honour of their families, even if they are oppressed and treated as property. Honour is good!“; “Some Jewish people in Europe were not put to death at Auschwitz, so can we just stop talking about the 1,100,000 who died there? It’s so negative and ignores the fact that some survived the death camp.”, “Some aboriginal Canadians have access to clean, safe drinking water so there’s that. We can just dismiss those that don’t have good water to drink because the goal of having clean water has been met in some cases.”, “All lives matter so it’s not important that people of colour are more likely to be fatally wounded in an encounter with police than white folks because we matter too and acknowledging that all life is sacred is good.” I think even you would agree that these arguments are woefully lacking in common sense and logic.
Pull yourself out of your prison of good intentions and get your powerful, law-making self more education. With your privilege and power comes responsibility. You, Madame Senator, if you do not not even begin to understand your privilege, if you cannot even begin to try to understand the experiences of a very important part of the nation you serve, you have no place in the Red Chamber. None.
I get the impulse. It’s entirely natural to want to dissociate as much as possible from the evils that we inflict on one another, but dissociation does nothing to correct the evil. Nothing. What happened was ugly, racist, horrifying and will ripple through generations. That is the truth of it and it’s appropriate to acknowledge the truth, with all its ugliness and sharp edges. It’s not appropriate to try to dress that ugliness up with some lipstick and try to sell it as a good thing.
Since your faith is apparently so important, I’ll leave you with a very Christian thought by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, from the 11th century: “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.” Stop paving that road.
Thank you to everyone who gave editorial advice and proofreading. Peace and love peeps.
For everyone else walking around in skin like mine, who might have the same thinking, please start here and read some of the material on this site Truth and Reconciliation, before you minimize anyone’s experience, before you talk to anyone about intentions.
And for those interested in learning even more (because God knows that many of us weren’t taught one thing about the real aboriginal experience in schools), there are the following sites (again please take the time to educate yourselves). There is so much information out there on this, there is really no excuse for uneducated, dehumanizing statements like the ones from this senator:
Please also don’t go into reading, viewing and listening to these with ideas already in your head. Just shut up for a minute and listen. Listen without the impulse to respond. Listen.
Finally, if you have the inclination, feel free to write to this senator to let her know how Canadians really feel about this dark part of our national experience. She can be contacted in the following ways:
Senate of Canada
Toll Free: 1-800-267-7362