Truth and reconciliation slow to come to US – Lake County Record-Bee


Stop for a moment at a heritage marker here, 100 miles from Ottawa, to read the history of the game of lacrosse in the Mohawk language, printed with French and English versions. Then think about what Canadians did last week and what Americans will do this week.

Last Friday, Canadians from coast to coast celebrated the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, coming together for hours to drum and sing, march in solidarity with those known as First Canadians and reflect on the experience of Indigenous peoples in Canada. They wore orange shirts to commemorate the garment taken from Phyllis Webstad of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem Band at age 6 on her first day at boarding school in 1973.

On Monday, Americans will mark what President Joe Biden has declared Indigenous Peoples Day. The similarities end there.

Many Americans will still regard Monday as Columbus Day, marking the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of America in 1492 and claiming an island in the Bahamas for the Spanish crown. The price paid by Indigenous peoples after the “encounter” – as the collision of Europeans and Native Americans is called by scholars – is known in college classrooms and on Indian reservations. But it is rarely discussed in the United States and is downplayed as the intellectual and moral cousin of critical race theory.

Canada has spent the past few years in something of a national seminary on First Nations peoples whose lives have been disrupted, and often interrupted, by the influx of Europeans into the New World. His Truth and Reconciliation Commission rocked the country in grief and embarrassment over the treatment of indigenous peoples. The discovery of the bodies of more than a thousand Aboriginal people, mostly children, buried on the grounds of residential schools who sought to Christianize and, as the word is often used in this effort, to “civilize” those who were called then the Indians, only aggravated the remorse .

Pope Francis made a pilgrimage here in July to deal with the damage caused by the church among the more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and mixed-race children forced to attend these schools, but the pontiff disappointed many Canadians who complained that they had not shown sufficient penance.

“Indigenous leaders in Quebec and Canada have organized, raised their concerns about the past and made clear the reprisals that must be addressed,” said Geoffrey Kelley, the former minister of Indigenous Affairs in the provincial government of Quebec. Quebec. “Not everything has been settled, but at least there is a greater degree of empowerment for indigenous peoples here than in the United States. The cup may not be half full, but at least it’s no longer empty.

Much of the progress in Canada stems from a series of Supreme Court decisions that have provided explicit direction on how to address past wrongs and right them.

Half a century ago, the Canadian High Court affirmed the existence of Aboriginal rights which it said could not be extinguished unilaterally by the federal government. In 1975, the governments of Quebec and Canada signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement with the Cree and Inuit as part of the settlement of a dispute over hydroelectric development in their territories. The result was the creation of native schools and boards of health, native policing, and decision-making processes on environmental issues. Seven years later, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirmed that “existing Aboriginal and treaty rights are recognized and affirmed”.

That’s more than what happened south of the border. “Canada has done a much better job of recognizing these issues, but there is government incompetence in both countries,” said Mike Delisle, one of 12 chiefs of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawa:ke. “For generations we have known about the abuse here, and the big shock to the rest of the country came last year with the discovery of the bodies in the residential schools. It hasn’t happened to that degree, if at all, in the United States. And you can only imagine the kinds of abuse that happened there.

Nine-in-tenths of Canadians agree that the Catholic Church and religious organizations that ran residential schools need to play a bigger role in combating these abuses, with 81 per cent — up 19 points in eight years — believing Ottawa needs to improve the quality of life of Aboriginal people in Canada. people, according to a 2021 Ipsos poll.

Much of the focus here is on bringing the country’s traditional narrative into line with what has been uncovered in recent years. Last Friday, the day Canadians donned orange shirts, the Hudson’s Bay Company redirected proceeds from the sale of its famous “point blankets” — the iconic striped bedspreads, symbolizing both of Canada’s fur-trading heritage and the role the company played in dishonest trading with Indigenous peoples and driving them off their lands – to a new fund called ‘Oshki Wupoowane’, the Ojibwe language meaning “new cover”. The money will be directed towards cultural, artistic and educational efforts.

Despite this, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report stated that “too many Canadians know little or nothing about the deep historical roots of these conflicts”, adding: “This lack of knowledge has serious consequences for the peoples of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis, as well as for Canada.”

Americans are slowly improving their knowledge of Native affairs. Just as Bob Joseph’s “21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act” is a Canadian bestseller, David Maraniss’ “Path Lit by Lightning” is the biography of athlete Jim Thorpe, is a bestseller south of the border.

In declaring Indigenous Peoples Day, Biden said the holiday “celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and is committed to honoring the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations to Indigenous peoples.” tribal nations”. It’s the strongest language from the White House in 52 years.

On July 8, 1970, another American president broke with the doctrine of encouraging Indians to assimilate and delivered a message to Congress: “Since their first contact with European settlers, the American Indians have been oppressed and brutalized, deprived of their ancestral heritage. land and deprived of the ability to control their own destiny. Even federal programs designed to meet their needs have often proven ineffective and demeaning.

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type: It’s time to follow Richard Nixon’s leadership.
(David M. Shribman is the former editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)


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