June 15, 2019

Winnipeg
20° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Opinion

Canada's history of denial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/7/2013 (2152 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I will never forget the first time I heard about the horror of Indian residential schools. It was 1982 and I had been commissioned to write a play for the World Assembly of First Nations. A musical combining traditional native song and dance with contemporary rock, jazz, blues, classical and operatic styles, the play was to cover 500 years of history of First Nations in North America.

My script had to be checked by elders throughout Saskatchewan, and when I told them the play was going to be presented at the magnificent mainstream Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts, many of them told me this might be a fine opportunity to finally tell the world about their experiences at "boarding school."

I had never heard about this sad chapter in Canada's history and some of the stories went way beyond what we have since learned about physical and sexual abuse, cultural genocide and the latest revelation that entire communities were used as "laboratories" with people as guinea pigs for experiments about malnutrition.

My first reaction was one of horror, then shame, then guilt, even though I knew full well I would never be a part of such atrocities and I would never support such terrible behaviour. I was pretty sure I would do everything I could to expose such a wrong and try to get it stopped and prevent it from happening in the future.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 30 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Keep reading free:

I agree to the Terms and Conditions, Cookie and Privacy Policies, and CASL agreement.

 

Already have an account?

Log in here »

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/7/2013 (2152 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I will never forget the first time I heard about the horror of Indian residential schools. It was 1982 and I had been commissioned to write a play for the World Assembly of First Nations. A musical combining traditional native song and dance with contemporary rock, jazz, blues, classical and operatic styles, the play was to cover 500 years of history of First Nations in North America.

My script had to be checked by elders throughout Saskatchewan, and when I told them the play was going to be presented at the magnificent mainstream Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts, many of them told me this might be a fine opportunity to finally tell the world about their experiences at "boarding school."

A nurse takes a blood sample from boy at a B.C. residential school at Port Alberni in 1948,  a time when nutrition experiments were conducted.

CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES / LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA

A nurse takes a blood sample from boy at a B.C. residential school at Port Alberni in 1948, a time when nutrition experiments were conducted.

I had never heard about this sad chapter in Canada's history and some of the stories went way beyond what we have since learned about physical and sexual abuse, cultural genocide and the latest revelation that entire communities were used as "laboratories" with people as guinea pigs for experiments about malnutrition.

My first reaction was one of horror, then shame, then guilt, even though I knew full well I would never be a part of such atrocities and I would never support such terrible behaviour. I was pretty sure I would do everything I could to expose such a wrong and try to get it stopped and prevent it from happening in the future.

This is the natural reaction of any decent person.

But there is a major problem in all of this. And it is holding us back from dealing with the IRS experience and finding the healing we need.

I realized this when I returned home and told some of my friends about what I had learned. After an initial reaction of shock and disbelief, they were horrified, and rightfully so, because they are certainly not the kind of people who would condone that kind of behaviour.

We all agreed the impacts of the residential school experience were multi-generational and had to be dealt with, but I soon discovered most of my friends would just as soon forget about it and move on.

You see, there's kind of a stink that goes along with being the same colour or ethnic background as the perpetrators of this horror. A big stink and this is what is going to compromise whatever the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tries to do.

Because most good Canadians would prefer "denial" than face up to the fact this great country and its great people were part of such a horror.

"Look! I didn't do it. My parents didn't do it and neither did my grandparents! Why should I be responsible for something that happened in the past?"

Pressed with incontrovertible evidence, Canadians have come around to issuing a historic apology and made individual payments to survivors in addition to providing $60 million for the TRC.

There is this huge desire to put this whole sorry mess behind us.

"After all, we said we were sorry and we gave you some money and..."

But still there remains this guilt. The fact that somebody who looks like you and perhaps even could have been you could do something so horrible. Guilt by association.

Some people finally just say, "Get over it," like the longer we talk about it, the longer it stays around and the longer we feel guilty about it.

But most of us just go into deep, deep denial.

Canadians are tired of hearing about the Indian residential school experience. And they desperately want to move on.

And this is what is preventing us from doing that very thing.

We all know the mistreatment First Nations people received in residential schools created dysfunctions in later life that have passed on through generations. Loss of parenting skills, alcoholism and abuse have become a way of life for some and this is manifest in the social and economic problems we are experiencing today.

We cannot solve these problems unless we recognize where they came from and why they are happening. And we cannot do this unless we get over this collective denial and roll up our sleeves and work together with First Nations leadership to restore families and communities which were torn apart by the IRS experience.

I have watched amazed as good people, people I love and trust, almost throw their hands over their ears and shouted like little kids, "I don't wanna hear about that anymore." But no matter what the apology, the payments and the TRC achieve, we are going to have to realize the multi-generational impacts still need to be dealt with and it may take a few generations to get past that.

It starts by overcoming the denial that inflicts us all.

 

Don Marks wrote and directed the play in Deo, the music video Perfect Crime and other productions that exposed the Indian residential school experience.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

History

Updated on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 9:24 AM CDT: corrects typos

12:46 AM: Corrects typo.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us