The goal of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools – which were run by churches along with the government – was to educate, but also convert and civilize Native children, replacing their culture with a Western one. Starting in 1884, school became compulsory for Native children under 16, and when a local school wasn’t available Native children would often be forcibly taken from their families and sent to these boarding schools. In other instances families were threatened with fines or prison if they didn’t send their children. This practice left the children on their own, away from any family or trusted adults they could turn to for help. That left them especially vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse.
For six years, a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” (TRC) traveled across Canada to hear from former students of the schools. More than 6,500 were heard, and their testimony collected. The Commission also issued 94 calls to action, all of which the Liberal government agreed to. But not all of these recommendations were of the same quality. In his article “No other gods,” Mark Penninga highlights how #64 would require Christian schools to promote native spirituality.
That isn’t the only one that’s got problems. But lest readers think they are all problematic, I wanted to list one more bad one, but also highlight one that could be great.
The bad: #6
Of the Commission’s 94 recommendations some are simply wrong. For example, #6:
“We call upon the Government of Canada to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada.”
This is the section that specifically grants parents a defense when they use “reasonable force to discipline a child” – this is a legal recognition of parents’ right to spank their children.
The reason the Commission is calling for an end to spanking is likely because of the physical abuse some Native children suffered in the schools. But in making this recommendation they are overlooking the vast gulf that exists between beating up a child and spanking one.
The good: #81
One of the best recommendations might be #81, to make a monument to remember the evil done to these children and their families.
“We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors and their organizations, and other parties to the Settlement Agreement, to commission and install a publicly accessible, highly visible, Residential Schools National Monument in the city of Ottawa to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.”
We want our country and especially our legislators to be continually confronted with the horror that the government committed in stealing children from their parents to teach them values their parents opposed. In Ontario right now the government is pushing forward on their proposed and hotly opposed Sex-Ed curriculum. Those in power are still eager to force their worldview on other people’s children.
So let’s build a monument, make it huge, and place it somewhere in Ottawa that legislators will walk past every day. Stealing and indoctrinating children remains a temptation for lawmakers, so they need to be reminded of past wrongs in the hope that this memory will restrain them from committing future evils.