I sit here in my large, comfortable, well-heated home, almost trembling with reverberation from seeing Alanis Obomsawin’s film, “The People of the Kattawapiskak River” at the ImagineNative film festival in Toronto. Every Canadian needs to see it.
It’s late, and I’ll soon hit the sack, unworried about a fire starting in the night from improper wiring or an overheated makeshift stove. I don’t have to worry about the approaching winter with 40 below zero cold but little insulation in my “temporary” ‘emergency’ trailer. And I don’t have to worry about feeding or clothing my children, or whether they soon will lose our mother tongue – and our traditional survival skills, like snaring a rabbit.
I don’t have to worry that when I wake up tomorrow my neighbour’s adolescent boy may have died of alcohol poisoning or suicide. Or in the final analysis, of boredom, and deep feelings of inadequacy, chronic depression, despair.
And to realize that most of this misery is the result of cruel and ignorant exploitation by my ancestors’ governments and churches. I feel shame, to the point of tears, whenever I am reminded of the residential school history.
You cannot, for example, take a young boy far away from his family and everything that is familiar and safe then, while he is already suffering from loneliness and homesickness, subject him to the additional cruelty of abuse, and expect him to become a strong, confident, emotionally healthy man who can lead his people to success and happiness. You are more likely instead to drive him to drink, a life of nightmares and terrible memories, misery, and early death.
“The answer” is not self-flagellation. We can’t undo the crimes that were done. What we can do is everything in our power to make amends including all the help and support that will ever be needed. There are many smart, impressive indigenous people trying to fix the wounds, in creative ways, but they need all the help they can get, because it was an emotional “bloodbath.” We owe at least this.
And Restitution. We should all be talking about this.