Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mandatory history is not needed

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Justice Murray Sinclair has a good case to argue that professionals who work with First Nations people should have good grounding in the historical and cultural factors that can complicate that work and relations with native people. For many years, those in authority -- doctors, teachers, police -- carried out services at the direction of government, by policies that were racist and harmful to First Nations. Some professionals are regarded with suspicion to this day.

That touches upon the myriad considerations that get in the way of building good relations with clients, or act as a barrier to integrating First Nation employees and professionals into the work force. These are some of the things Judge Sinclair, commissioner of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, had in mind in insisting last week that all professions undergo mandatory training in the history of residential schools in Canada.

Residential schools robbed children of their language, culture and the care of their families. They grew up in environments that, initially, sought to bleed the Indian out of them, to assimilate them. Many were badly physically and sexually abused. This piece of our history helps explain the lingering distrust, the degradation of self-sufficiency in remote First Nations communities and generations of social malaise that includes high rates of substance abuse, disease and unemployment.

Any organization or professional school whose employees and students will be in frequent contact with aboriginal people and communities should see the evident need that they understand the history and its impact, but it does not need to be mandatory on all professions.

Rather, understanding the roots of this country's political, social and economic relationship with its first peoples should be required as basic education. That is why public school curriculum should reflect the history and the reality of First Nations. This is important to Canada, in all realms.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2013 A8

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