This year, on July 1st, Canada’s birthday was not celebrated and feted in its usual fashion; instead, it became a time for Canadians for somber refection and a sense of communal shame and horror.
Just before this birthday, the unmarked graves of thousands of Indigenous children were found at residential school grounds across our fair country. Canadians are finally forced to face the national shame that plagues “our home and very “native” land -in the disgraceful way our Indigenous Peoples have been treated since their lands were conquered by the British and the French centuries ago.
Over the last few hundred years, Canada treated its Indigenous Peoples in the most degrading and appalling manner. A note of irony: South Africa’s infamous apartheid laws were based upon Canada’s Indian Act. Canada’s early governments pushed the Indigenous Peoples from their traditional lands, broke treaties, segregated Indigenous Peoples in reservations where they were not provided with their most basic rights and needs, including clean drinking water which, by the way, continues until today! The Canadian government has consistently taken away our Native Peoples’ right to self-determination and have kept them enslaved in a perpetual cycle of imposed infantilization.
The very worst of the offences perpetrated against our Indigenous Peoples is and was the attempt to commit cultural genocide against them. To destroy their sense of family, of culture, of religion.
By way of a small example, of the thousands of Indigenous languages once spoken, only three have a chance of surviving today.
The deplorable residential school system is the quintessence of this policy.
As early as 1830’s, when a residential school was built in Brantford, Ontario, up until 1997 (!), Indigenous children were involuntarily removed from their families and forced to go to Christian schools to learn how to become as ‘white’ as possible, to become as ‘non heathen’ as possible- by all means possible.
These poor children endured beatings, sexual abuse, murder.
Now, in 2021, thousands of unmarked graves of the children are being discovered in these residential schoolgrounds across Canada.
Over the past fifty years, Canada’s public relations has marketed Canada as a bastion of decency, a pillar of inclusion, a haven for all. The idea of Canada as a cultural mosaic, a plurality of nations happily co-existing in their new adoptive home Canada, is as pervasive a hyped-up myth as the granite-jawed Mountie, standing ramrod straight next to a snowy mountain, protecting equally and judiciously all Canadians, regardless of race, colour and creed. (Every Canadian who has been following the recent outrageous behavior of our military will attest to how synthetic that image now feels.)
Before the 1950’s, Canada epitomized the mores of the provincial colonialist population of the British Commonwealth of that time. The prejudice and bigotry of these early British settlers was unquestionably racist. Chinese people who built the railroads in Canada were paid significantly less than whites and were given the most dangerous jobs. The Irish Catholics, disdainfully called ‘lace curtain Irish” were frowned upon by British Anglican settlers and were unwelcome in certain places. In Quebec, after the French were defeated, the prosperous English and Scottish settlers there discriminated against the French Catholic population.
Black Canadians were also subjected to segregationist policies, as attested to by the tribulations of Viola Desmond, the Black woman who now graces Canada’s $10 bill. In Toronto and other parts of Canada, until after WWII, Jews saw signs that said “no Jews or dogs allowed”; were not allowed to buy homes in restricted areas, to swim in public swimming pools or work at certain department stores for years and suffered many other discriminatory practices. Canada’s WWII record vis-à-vis Jews is the most appalling. When Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s head of immigration, T. Frederick Blair was asked how many Jewish children headed for certain death in the concentration camps of Europe, Canada would receive as refugees, he answered “None is too many”. After WW11, many WASP firms would not work with Italian and other immigrants; It was then that fortuitous alliances were made between the Jews and Italians and some of Canada’s largest and most successful development companies today are a result of those early relationships.
The Golden Age for immigrants to Canada came about in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, as immigration from many countries increased and the WASP domination of Canada eased. The seeds of this ‘cultural mosaic’ were planted after WW11, when the Jews and others escaping the horrors of Europe came to Canada and became the proudest of Canadians, working hard and building a sleepy backwards provincial country into a beacon of hope and renewal. The ‘outcasts’ became a dominating and powerful force as they brought their enthusiasm, hard work and strong ethics to Canada and turned it into a land of opportunity and possibility.
Herein lies the cruelest of ironies; this moment in time when newcomers to Canada created these opportunities was simultaneous to when our Indigenous Peoples suffered some of their worst and most cruel treatment at the hand of the Canadian government.
Many decades ago, when I, who had been involved in the fight for Indigenous Rights well before I went on strike with other actors at the Banff School of Fine Arts to support our Indigenous brethren unfairly targeted by the schools’ administration, I could not believe how hypocritical Canada was concerning our Native Peoples. Realizing the irony of Canada disingenuously fighting the abysmal practice of Apartheid in South Africa in the 1980’s when South Africa’s apartheid system was modelled on Canada’s heinous Indian Act left me in a state of profound disbelief and disgust.
How did this continue at a time of Canada’s emergence as a “tolerant cultural mosaic?”
The truth is hard to swallow.
In the late 1960’s Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chretien crafted their White Paper in what is widely perceived today as a sly attempt to remove and destroy Indigenous culture in Canada.
The most heartbreaking and destructive aspect of this initiative was what is now called the ‘Sixties Scoop’. Replacing residential schools as a primary tool of forced cultural assimilation, this heinous practice was implemented by Trudeau’s government, where once again Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and loved ones and sent to be adopted by White peoples, from as far away as New Zealand! This blatant attempt to destroy their Indigenous culture forever was brutal, appalling, inherently racist and delegitimizing.
The question is: should Justin Trudeau be held accountable for the ‘sins’ of his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau?
No need to do so; after all, Justin Trudeau has more than enough of his own sins to answer for, in dealing with our Indigenous Peoples.
Jody Wilson-Raybould was appointed by Justin Trudeau as Canada’s first Indigenous woman Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. When Minister Wilson- Raybould, an Indigenous Chief and a well-respected lawyer stood strong against Trudeau’s attempt to interfere in judicial matters, his language and behaviour- and that of his caucus- towards her was particularly disrespectful, condescending and demeaning. Many Canadians felt that there was a racially tinged edge to the entire sad episode.
Trudeau’s pattern of virtue signalling, of playing the part of sympathetic ‘leader’ of -or for -the Indigenous Peoples when cameras focus on him does not sync up with the reality of his reneging on his promises and commitments.
Currently, Trudeau’s government has been fighting court ordered compensation to Indigenous Peoples, at the taxpayers’ expense. Trudeau’s promise of clean drinking water for Indigenous Peoples has yet to be realized, the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation are far from being implemented and while Trudeau fully blames the Catholic Church for residential schools and wants an apology from the Pope- where is his apology on behalf of his own family’s involvement?
It is time for our hypocritical and deceitful prime Minister to stop posturing and virtue signalling, stop placing all blame on the church and others for the crimes committed against our Indigenous Peoples when his own family’s legacy is so implicated and involved.
After all, the legacy of the government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Jean Chretien include the White Paper and the Sixties Scoop.
When Justin s next “takes the knee” or clutches a teddy bear while kneeling on an Indigenous child’s unmarked grave, one would not be cynical in asking if Justin Trudeau is an heir to his father’s tragic legacy.