Did the Pope Really Refuse to Apologize?

A commentary on whether the Pope should apologize to Canada’s Indigenous people.

Back in May of 2017, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Pope Francis and asked him to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system where abuse of indigenous children occurred (see Newsweek).  When I first heard about this, I was confused as I thought the Pope had already apologized. I  wondered why the Catholic leader was being asked to apologize again.  Newsweek’s article explains that in 2009 the previous pontiff, Pope Benedict, met with survivor of the system Phil Fontaine, then national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The article asserts that the pope did not formally apologize. Instead, he simply shared his ‘sorrow’ and ‘sympathy.’

Pope Francis

In March, the headline, Pope’s decision to not issue apology , appeared on the CBC News website. The article says Pope Francis claimed he could not personally apologize for residential school abuses. This month, Global News reported that the Canadian Parliament held a “historic” debate on whether to ask Pope Francis to formally apologize for the substantial role the Catholic church played in the residential school system. This week The National Post reports that Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) passed a motion to invite the Pope to Canada to apologize for residential schools. The vote was passed by a margin of 269-10 .  One of the advocates of the motion was residential school survivor and MP, Romeo Saganash. The article says that an apology is one of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; a Commission that recommended an apology be delivered in Canada by the pontiff, for the church’s role in the residential school abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children.

All this talk about another apology from a pope piqued my curiosity. If the previous pope, Pope Benedict, already issued an apology, what is this all about? I set out to find out.

The National Observer’s article, Bishops try to clarify Pope’s refusal to apologize for residential schools, says the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a background paper to MPs and senators. The paper says the church has “on a number of occasions expressed regret and remorse at the involvement by various Catholics” in the schools. It also reminds us that Pope Benedict met with a delegation of Indigenous leaders in 2009 “and expressed sorrow and regret for the abuses suffered” in the schools. The Bishop’s paper said Phil Fontaine declared that the meeting with Pope Benedict “closes the circle of reconciliation.” It also said

  “To suggest that the Catholic community has not accepted responsibility for its involvement in residential schools is simply inaccurate. The Catholic Church has apologized in the way it is structured.”

The New York Times article, A Pope Given to Apologies Has Nothing for Indigenous Canada, says that Phil Fontaine has since stated, “It was right for the moment,” about Pope Benedict’s expression of sorrow. “But there’s a lot we didn’t know about in 2009: We didn’t know the number of deaths, the numbers of those abused. So much has been exposed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it’s really so different now.”

 I have to agree with Mr. Fontaine. Since 2009 we’ve learned a lot more about the horrors that occurred in those schools. In fact, I was shocked to learn doing this post that CBC News reported that Ontario Provincial Police files reveal that an Ontario residential school, St. Anne’s, had built its own electric chair. In my last post, Hockey is Part of Canada, I talked about how residential school students lived in substandard conditions, endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse by brothers, priests and nuns who claimed they represented God.

This begs the question: Was the 2009 apology a true, sincere apology, and what constitutes an accurate apology anyways?  Mindtools.com in its article, How to Apologize: Asking for Forgiveness Gracefully, says to apologize correctly, an apology must:

  1. start with two magic words: “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize.”
  2. admit responsibility for actions or behaviour and acknowledge what an offender did.
  3. take action to make the situation right.
  4. explain that the offender will never repeat the action or behaviour again.

Psychology Today’s article, The Five Ingredients of an Effective Apology, says in order for an apology to be effective, it must have the following ingredients:

  1. A clear ‘I’m sorry’ statement.
  2. An expression of regret for what happened.
  3. An acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated.
  4. An empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of the offender’s actions on the victim(s). In other words, to truly forgive, a victim needs to feel that the offender completely understands the full impact their actions had on them.
  5. A request for forgiveness.

So, do the Canadian Conference of Bishops have a valid argument? Has the Catholic Church given a proper apology? Using the above criteria, l shall analyze Pope Benedict’s 2009 apology.

CTV News in 2009 reported, that the pontiff expressed his sorrow and emphasized that “acts of abuse cannot be tolerated”.  Pope Benedict went on to say,

“Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity.”

Both Mindtools.com and Psychology Today say the words “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize” need to be used. They were not used by the pontiff in 2009. This is the primary argument for why it was  not a real apology. Pope Benedict’s apology definitely fails on this point.

Psychology Today says there needs to be an expression of regret for what happened. The Pontiff expressed his sorrow at the anguish. I’d say that shows regret, so it’s a pass on this one.

Mindtools.com says an apology needs to take responsibility for actions or behaviour as well as acknowledge what occurred. The Holy Father did acknowledge what happened, i.e. “the deplorable conduct of some members of the church”.  It’s debatable whether he’s taken responsibility. Another word for responsibility is accountability, which means being answerable for one’s actions.  Expressing “sorrow” and “regret” is not being accountable . I’d give a fail for this one.

Psychology Todays says an empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of an offender’s actions on the other person, needs to be given.  Benedict talked about “the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church” but that is hardly acknowledging the full impact of the actions. I would give a fail on this one.

Mindtools.com says the offender must take action to make the situation right and promise to never repeat the action or behavior. The pope’s apology fails on these points. Psychology Today says there needs to be a request for forgiveness. This did not happen, so a fail on this one as well.

Canada’s Parliament Buildings

Is our Prime Minister and Canada’s Members of Parliament justified in asking Pope Francis to apologize? After my analysis, I would say a resounding YES. Furthermore, aboard the Papal plane back in 2016, Pope Francis told reporters that gays — and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited — deserve an apology (see CBC).  It would seem to me that the indigenous people were marginalized, meaning they were seen as less important by members of the church, as late as 1996 when the last federally operated residential school closed. Actions speak louder than words. The pope needs to put his own words into action and deliver a sincere, acceptable apology to the indigenous people of Canada on behalf of the church he represents. It’s the Christian thing to do!

Hockey is Part of Canada

A commentary on two tragedies that affected all Canadians

Since my last post, two events have occurred that deeply impacted me on an emotional level.  I’ll start with the first; a horrific event. On April 6th,  the bus taking a hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game, collided with a tractor-trailer in rural Saskatchewan.  Sixteen people were killed with the youngest victim being a 16-year-old Broncos player. Even though I am not part of the hockey world and never have been, I was still shaken and saddened. For me, it is more about family members of the victims. I thought about my own children and the many times they were on buses going to basketball or some other sport.

A memorial at the stairs that lead to Elgar Petersen Arena is shown in Humboldt, Sask.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards ORG

What struck me most about this event, was the reaction of Canadians and even the world. According to CTV News Saskatchewan, Humboldt’s only florist received hundreds of orders from as far away as Australia to send flowers to anyone and everyone affected by the crash. The Canalta Hotel offered free rooms to family members travelling to the Humboldt after the crash, plus provided food and support. Restaurants handed out free food. In one instance, an individual driving through a Tim Hortons bought coffee for the next 50 people in line. The food manager for the City of Humboldt said he has watched semi-trailers full of water, soda and edibles come into the Humboldt Uniplex every day. Flags were flown at half-mast across the nation to show compassion for Humboldt.

What is even more astonishing is people across Canada and from around the world contributed to a GoFundMe campaign for the victims and their families, which has exceeded fourteen million dollars, one of the largest drives in Canada’s history. As Maclean’s magazine put it, Humboldt’s GoFundMe account expresses a nation’s grief in dollars and cents.

An initiative #JerseysforHumboldt was first proposed on Facebook by a group of hockey parents in British Columbia as a way to honour the Saskatchewan junior hockey team. The movement snowballed resulting in Canadians across the country putting on jerseys as a massive show of support for the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. (see Jersey Day)

One person started a phenomenon by tweeting a picture that showed a lonely hockey stick left out on the front step of a home with the message, “Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it … wherever they are.”  Numerous people have tweeted their pictures under the hashtag #PutYourStickOut to show their support to the team and their friends and families. (see Hockey Sticks)

It was Al Gore who said (paraphrased) in his latest movie, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’, “It’s our suffering that unites us”. That is what seems to be happening in my country because of this awful event. Perhaps the late Nelson Mandela said it better with his words, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Whatever is happening, I can honestly say that I felt proud to be a Canadian.

The second event was also a horrific event that also involves hockey, but in a different way. It was an experience that affected me just as deeply as the one I described above. On the weekend I went to the Canadian movie, Indian Horse, a movie released on April 13.  This is a movie I would encourage every Canadian, and even people of other nationalities to see if they can. It tells a story that needs to be told and Canadians need to hear, even though it is a story that will likely make you uncomfortable.

What is so special about this film is it connects hockey with Indigenous issues. The story is adapted from a novel by Richard Wagamese, and is executive produced by Clint Eastwood. It explores the career of an exceptionally talented young Indigenous hockey player and  a NHL hopeful who endures Indian Residential school and struggles against racism-even from his own team-when he is recruited to a farm team for the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

The Star says, “Indigenous elders were on hand, as they had been throughout production of the movie…guiding the cast and crew through some of the darker moments they experienced.” The movie disturbingly shows the horror that indigenous children endured in Canadian Residential Schools as well as the relentless racism directed towards them outside the schools.

Here is a video telling a bit about the movie.

The story centers around the main character, Saul, who is forcibly taken from his family and placed in a Catholic governed Residential School. Saul’s only way to cope with his school hell is to turn to hockey.

Here is a quick lesson on the schools. In the 19th century, the Canadian government developed a policy called “aggressive assimilation” to be carried out at church-run, government-funded industrial schools, later to be called residential schools. It thought indigenous people’s best chance for success was to learn English, adopt Christianity and the Euro-Canadian culture.

To truly understand the mindset of Canadian government at that time in history, we just need to comprehend the mindset of Duncan Campbell Scott, who was head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, a department he had served since joining the federal civil service in 1879. Mr. Scott said:

 “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

It is clear that the Canadian government saw the indigenous people as a problem that needed to be dealt with. In fact, Duncan Campbell Scott once said, the “policy of this Department [Indian Affairs]…is geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

The movie boldly showed how students of the Residential schools lived in substandard conditions, endured physical and emotional abuse as well as sexual abuse by people who claimed to be God’s representatives.  Essentially, the Government of Canada initiated a cultural genocide, a genocide carried out by various denominations of church missionaries.

I left that movie feeling sickened that my country has this dark history. I felt compassion for indigenous Canadians. I felt annoyed that it is only in the 21st century that I am now learning about this dark history regarding Canada’s treatment of its indigenous people. And most of all, I left that movie feeling ashamed to be a Canadian and ashamed of my Catholic roots.

Why is War so Popular?

A commentary on why humanity engages in warfare.

A CBC News article, Here’s a look at Russia’s ‘invulnerable’ weapons, reports that on March 1st, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced to the world that Russia possesses an arsenal of new nuclear weapons that can’t be stopped. He publicized such weapons as nuclear-powered subs called uninhabited underwater vehicles (UUV), nuclear-powered missiles and hypersonic, intercontinental ballistic missiles. This kind of language has not been used since the Cold War. Why is Putin telling the world about its weapons of mass destruction? Is this talk of war?

Wikipedia has a list of ongoing armed conflicts. Two of the most notable are the Syrian civil war and the Iraq civil war. These are the two conflicts we hear about most often in the news. There are many others; many of them on the continent of Africa. This got me thinking. Why are humans set on war?

I recently read an interesting article called, The Dalai Lama’s Hard Hitting Message for World Leaders About The Reality of War.  Now the Dalai Lama is someone I deeply respect and I believe has much wisdom to offer the world. For those who don’t know, the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally the political leader of Tibet, but the Chinese government forced him into exile in 1959 because of its imperialistic policies.  Here is some of the Dalai Lama’s message.

“…war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous – an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.”

The words “we have been brainwashed” really struck me. Have we been brainwashed? I was attracted to the military as a youngster. I always thought it would have been glamorous to come back a war hero. I never actually seriously considered joining, except maybe on the day I had to register for university classes in the 1970s; a very stressful experience. What attracted me mostly was its discipline. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama was also attracted to the military in his youth. He explains in his message.

“Frankly as a child, I too was attracted to the military. Their uniform looked so smart and beautiful. But that is exactly how the seduction begins. Children start playing games that will one day lead them in trouble…Again, if we as adults were not so fascinated by war, we would clearly see that to allow our children to become habituated to war games is extremely unfortunate. Some former soldiers have told me that when they shot their first person they felt uncomfortable but as they continued to kill it began to feel quite normal. In time, we can get used to anything.”

I think the Dalai Lama is right. Society has been brainwashed. I used to play war games as a kid. I even had plastic soldiers to play with. Nowadays, there are numerous video games involving killing in war scenarios. As the Dalai Lama says, this “is exactly how the seduction begins.”  Or, shall we say the brainwashing begins.

One might ask: Why would our leaders want us to believe war is “exciting and glamorous”?  In June of last year, the Atlantic announced that the U.S. Approves $1.4 Billion Military Sale to Saudi Arabia. CNN says the U.S. accounts for one-third of global arms sales. If you are curious to who the Americans sell arms to, see: Here’s who buys the most weapons from the U.S.  So why are we being brainwashed to see war as “exciting and glamorous”?  It seems war is big business. If you want to make money selling arms, you must have wars. It seems very logical to me.

The New York Times published an article in 2014 entitled: The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth.  It says,

The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits. An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention… the persistence and expectation of peace.

This is the only answer I can come up with. War makes money, so it makes sense in light of the fact that the U.S. accounts for one-third of global arms sales.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is an indigenous Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, composer, visual artist, educator, pacifist, and social activist. She wrote a song titled, ‘Universal Soldier’. If you’ve never heard it, here it is. The song begins at 1:48.

The lyrics go as follows:

He’s five feet two and he’s six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years

He’s a catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jane
A Buddhist and a Baptist and Jew
And he knows he shouldn’t kill and he knows he always will kill
You’ll for me my friend and me for you

And he’s fighting for Canada, he’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the USA
And he’s fighting for the Russians and he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way

And he’s fighting for democracy he’s fighting for the reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall

But without him how would Hitler have condemned him at Le Val
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body as the weapon to the war
And without him all this killing can’t go on

He’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame
But his orders come from far away no more
They come from him and you and me and brothers can’t you see
This is not the way we put an end to war?

It is the last stanza that reveals Buffy Sainte-Marie’s key message. The artist reveals that it is us (you and me) that are the ones who start, continue and end wars.  Remember, the politicians are controlled by the people and work for the people. Or as Abraham Lincoln, one of the American presidents, said in his Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” If citizens refuse to support and/or participate in conflict and wars, then the killing will stop. As long as people agree to fight unnecessary wars for their political leaders, the killing continues. Let’s face it. Hitler could not have carried out his atrocities without his countrymen supporting him and without their willingness to carry them out.

Just Another Movie About a Myth

A commentary about myths perpetrated by Hollywood.

Hostiles is Hollywood’s latest Western movie that was released January 21. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I was curious as to whether this movie was different from other Westerns I’ve seen. A typical Western is cowboys fighting the savage Indians or Native Americans. Was this latest movie any different?  This is a synopsis from Tribute.ca.

Embittered U.S. Cavalry officer Captain Joseph J. Blocker is given the task of accompanying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk and his family from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, back to their tribal lands in Montana in the late 1890s, in order to make sure they arrive safely without incident. Yellow Hawk, who has spent seven years in captivity, has cancer, and wants to die in peace on his own land.

Blocker hates “Indians,” having slaughtered many of them himself, and having nearly died at the hands of a Kiowa. Although he sees them as nothing but savages, he’s still forced to accept the assignment. Once he and his soldiers get out of sight of the fort, he orders that the Chief and his family are put in chains.

Here is the trailer

 

I’m saddened to say Hostiles is just another Western portraying the aboriginal people as savage, uncivilized people who need to be wiped out or at the very least civilized. I grew up watching movies that portrayed Native Americans as savages. The Oxford Dictionary defines savage as barbaric, primitive or uncivilized. Because of Hollywood stereotypes, I believed Native Americans were inferior to Caucasians. We never studied First Nations (FN) culture in school. This video clip shows Hollywood’s portrayal of the FN people and consequently reinforcing stereotypic beliefs which are still alive today.

It seems this movie is no different. The Guardian’s review seems to agree with me.

It sometimes looks as if [Scott] Cooper [the director] thinks that his film can acknowledge and cancel the historical issues of white oppression simply by turning the violence levels up to boiling point, so that the shock of its cruelty, and the virulence of toxic masculinity, combined with the emollient beauty of the surrounding natural world and a growing emotional tenderness between Rosalie and Blocker, will somehow dissolve the great historical wrongs within a romantic narrative of learning and personal discovery…A flawed, but interesting drama.

I had hoped that in this 21st century Hollywood would at least begin to show the world the truth about FN people. Everything I’ve learned and taught (I taught Social Studies for many years) says that aboriginal people were highly civilized thus refuting the myth that when the European settlers arrived in the “New World”, they encountered bands of primitive, uncivilized, pagan savages.

Allow me to prove my point. Wikipedia’s Indigenous people in Canada says the First Nations people had settled and established trade routes across what is now Canada by 500 BCE–1,000 CE. Communities developed each with its own culture, customs, and character. Many Aboriginal civilizations established characteristics that included permanent urban settlements or cities, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture; a reference to the Mound Builders.  Mound Builders were inhabitants of North America during a 5,000-year period who constructed various styles of earthen mounds for religious and ceremonial, burial, and residential purposes. Most notably, this article says the Indigenous people had complex societal hierarchies, meaning First Nations people had a division of labour in which its members of society were more or less specialized in particular activities and depended on others for goods and services;  a system regulated by custom and laws.

Ojibwa Chief George Copway whose Ojibwa name was Kah-Ge-Ga-Gah-Bowh meaning “He Who Stands Forever.” He lived from 1818-1863 and was a writer, ethnographer, Methodist missionary, lecturer, and advocate of Native Americans. Chief Copway is reported to say;

“Among the Indians there have been no written laws. Customs handed down from generation to generation have been the only laws to guide them.  Every one might act different from what was considered right did he choose to do so, but such acts would bring upon him the censure of the Nation….  This fear of the Nation’s censure acted as a mighty band, binding all in one social, honorable compact.”   (source)

An ancient Cherokee proverb says: “When the white man discovered this country Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, women did all the work. White man thought he could improve on a system like this.” (source)

This Iroquois Prayer gives us an understanding of the Psyche of some the FN people.

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us. We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water. We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases. We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters, the beans and squash, which give us life. We return thanks to the bushes and trees, which provide us with fruit. We return thanks to the wind, which, moving the air, has banished diseases. We return thanks to the moon and the stars, which have given us their light when the sun was gone. We return thanks to our grandfather He-no, who has given to us his rain. We return thanks to the sun, that he has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye. Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his children  (Source: Huffington Post)

Do these quotes sound like they’re from an uncivilized, savage people? Definitely not. They reveal a people who had a strong connection and respect for the land. They describe a people who were highly organized and structured. That would not be the case if they were savages. They were not barbaric which Meriam-Webster defines as marked by a lack of restraint. FN people showed much restraint when it came to the land and using its resources.

Most western movies portrayed the FN people as wild, savage killers; not a peaceful people. Did the various aboriginal tribes fight with one another? Yes. This was a way to settle disputes, but their preference, like us, was to live in peace.

Duhaime’s Encyclopedia of Law tells of a peace accord, roughly 1100, between the Cayuga, Mohawks, Senecas, Oneidas and Onondagas Indians (collectively, the “Iroquois”). This accord is also referred to as the Oral Constitution of the Five Nations Indian Confederacy. But it is known to the aboriginal people of North America as the Great Law or Great Law of Peace.

The website, The Great Peacemakers explains that the accord

… protected the independence and liberties of each individual, each clan, and each nation while uniting the five nations into a confederacy, committed to inward well-being and outward strength. Raw materials and hunting grounds were to be shared. All religions were to be accepted. Unauthorized search was prohibited. Immigration into a nation within the League was welcomed regardless of ethnicity, but predicated upon acceptance of the Great Law.

It reminds me of the European Union, an organization that enhances common citizenship rights and improves cooperation, among other things. It is difficult to refute that the FN people were uncivilized. The Free Dictionary defines civilized as  ” having a highly developed society  and culture”.  The Great Law verifies just that.  It seems to me that Hollywood should be making movies that celebrate the truth about First Nations people instead of keeping a myth alive. But then again, maybe that would not be the makings for a very exciting movie.

Unexpected Bonuses to Briefly Coming Out of Retirement

Maybe the aboriginal people had it right all along.

You’ve perhaps noticed that I’ve published less frequently lately. Well, there’s a reason for that.  The six weeks prior to Christmas, I took off my retirement shoes and taught full time. The school I taught at for 27 years could not find a teacher to replace a maternity leave. Since the principal was sounding desperate, I agreed to take on a six-week contract.

I enjoyed being with young people again. That was why I went into teaching in the first place. Having said that, this experience definitely reaffirmed for me why I retired. Going back to planning lessons, marking assignments, and putting up with disruptive students confirmed for me that retirement from full-time teaching was the right choice.

Even though it was exhausting and demanding, I am truly grateful for the opportunities this experience provided. During my brief teaching stint, there was a professional development (PD) day scheduled. I admit, I was a bit negative about attending. After all, I would be retired once again in a few weeks. Why would I need more PD? I talked to my principal about it and he directed me to attend as the topic was general. I am so thankful he did. It was a very moving and powerful day.

In the morning, I attended a blanket ceremony. What is a blanket ceremony, you ask? This ceremony came about as a result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) initiated by the Canadian government in 2008. The commission provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system an opportunity to share their stories and experiences. Here is a paraphrased explanation of a blanket ceremony according to the Karios website:

In 1996, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition worked with Indigenous elders and teachers to develop an interactive way of learning the history most Canadians were never taught. The Blanket Exercise was the result. The Blanket Exercise is based on participatory education methodology and the goal is to build understanding about the shared history as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada by walking through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance. Everyone is actively involved as they step onto blankets that represent the land, and into the role of First Nations, Inuit and later Métis people. By engaging on an emotional and intellectual level, the Blanket Exercise effectively educates and increases empathy.

Now I thought I knew about residential schools as I had taught about them  when the social studies curriculum changed in 2005; when residential schools were included in the high school curriculum. Experiencing this ceremony left me feeling both shocked and saddened. Shocked because to visually see the result of European contact on indigenous people was appalling, and saddened that my Eurocentric ancestors could be so cruel.

The afternoon of the PD day was spent learning about First Nation (FN) culture. I’ve always been drawn to the indigenous people’s culture, especially their spirituality. It is a spirituality that is so inclusive and respectful of nature. This Ancient Indian Proverb expresses FN spirituality well.

“Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

This Cherokee Prayer also illustrates the FN People’s sacredness.

“Oh Great Spirit, help me always to speak the truth quietly, to listen with an open mind when others speak, and to remember the peace that may be found in silence.”

The afternoon included a smudging ceremony. For the FN Peoples, the purpose of the smudging ceremony is to cleanse and to remove any negative energy that may be present in a place, an object or a person. This is why many FN activities start with a smudge. A smudge is made by lighting dried plants (sage, sweetgrass, cedar or tobacco) in a shell or bowl until they smoulder.

We were shown what to do when doing a smudge. The smoke from the smudge is directed towards the head, so a person can think clearly, ears so you can hear the good things in life of others and of yourself; your mouth so you can speak of good things and say kind words to one another; your heart so you can feel good about yourself and others; and lastly you smudge your whole self so you can be blessed for the day. How beautiful is that?

Another opportunity I had during my six-week teaching stint was I got in on a field trip that was already planned before I started. It was a trip to Blue Quills, formerly a Residential School.

Sadly, I knew nothing about the Residential Schools until the mid 2000’s. It certainly wasn’t taught to me in school or university.  In case you don’t know about the Residential Schools in Canada, here is a brief history.

The Residential School system was created with the intent of removing children from their own culture and assimilating them into Canadian culture. Many of the residential schools were run by churches of various denominations, with the majority run by the Roman Catholic Church. Over its more than hundred-year existence, roughly 150,000 Indigenous children were placed in residential schools nationally.  At least 6,000 of these students are estimated to have died while residents.

The residential school system harmed Indigenous children considerably by removing them from their families, depriving them of their native languages, and subjecting numerous of them to physical, mental and sexual abuse. Detached from their families and culture, and forced to speak only English or French, students who attended the residential school system were unable to fit into either their aboriginal communities or Canadian society. The legacy of the system has been connected to an increased incidence of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide within Indigenous communities.

Back to my personal experience. The present Blue Quills Indian Residential School building was opened in 1931, and housed about 200 students a year. We toured the building and heard from two of the school’s survivors, both who were forcibly taken from their homes at the age of six to attend the school. They told many stories of the injustices that befell them; injustices such as lack of nutritious and sometimes inedible food, mental abuse, sexual abuse, and shaming practices by the staff. I was shocked to learn that the people of nearby community of St. Paul were not even aware that the school existed.

In 1969, residential schools were removed from churches. The government intended to sell Blue Quills to the nearby town of St. Paul for a dollar. Local Indigenous people formed the Blue Quills Native Education Council and sought authority to operate the school, but Indian Affairs disregarded their requests.

When they attempted to close Blue Quills in 1971, the local FN people held a sit-in at the school, demanding control of the school. Control was turned over to the Blue Quills Native Education Council and it became the first Canadian residential school administered by Aboriginal people. Blue Quills is now a FN college, run by the seven FN communities that surround it. The college’s central emphasis is on language revitalization, especially the Cree language. I applaud the FN people for their courage and determination, and for creating a fully functioning college which is still going strong in the 21st century.

John (Fire) Lame Deer was a Lakota-Sioux medicine man who once said,

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.”

Our ancestors entered North America, known to some Indigenous groups as Turtle Island, with their superiority complex believing that they were the civilized ones and had a responsibility to “civilize” the original inhabitants of Turtle Island. Now I always taught my social students the importance of practicing “historical empathy,” to place themselves in the historical situation to gain a deeper understanding of the events. Our European ancestors were acting in the best way they knew with their belief systems of the period. However, I have come to realize that it was the indigenous culture who perhaps had it right with their culture of sharing the land, stewardship of the land and spirituality. Although FN spirituality varied between tribes, it taught reverence for their ancestors by honouring and respecting others, and a respect for the land. In comparison, Europeans had a culture of land ownership, land exploitation and who viewed FN spirituality as a collection of superstitions.  I have to wonder how different our country would be had our ancestors arrived with an attitude of receptivity to new ways, instead of an attitude of superiority.

Do We Really Want to Erase History?

A commentary on how to handle controversial historical figures.

It seems there is a call for us North Americans to take another look at our history. That is a good thing. As a retired Social Studies and history teacher, I emphasized to my students that history is NOT fact since it is past events that have been interpreted by historians. In other words, historians analyze past events whereby they use diaries, archeological artifacts, and so on, to determine what happened. This is not without their biases and beliefs, or as Napoléon Bonaparte once allegedly said, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” History is a historian’s interpretation of the past.

In  the United States many people are calling for long-standing monuments that honour confederate generals to be removed. A similar debate is also developing in Canada involving the country’s first prime minister (PM), Sir. John A MacDonald. Canada’s first PM was one of our more colourful politicians as he was a notorious drinker. It is well documented that MacDonald was a regular binge drinker.

I first heard of the controversial issue of removing statues of U.S. Confederate generals in April of this year when I watched a news report of New Orleans removing a monument during the dark. Numerous statues in various U.S. cities have been removed since. So why are they being removed?

General Robert E. Lee located in Charlottesville, Virginia

The Currents, CBC Radio program, addressed the issue of U.S. Confederate statues represent ‘image of America as a white society’. The article quotes Eric Foner, the author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. Foner argues what many Confederate statues actually represent is “this image of America as a white society. That’s why people object to them, not because of a lack of interest in heritage or legacy.” Foner says, He goes on to say, “These statues actually don’t have a lot to do with the Civil War …They were put up mostly to be part of the legitimacy of white supremacy, of the Jim Crow system in the South, long after slavery.” The Jim Crow system was a system of racial segregation in the southern U.S. Foner explains that many of the statues were erected in the 1890s when the rights of black people were severely reduced.

What is the debate in Canada about?  For those who don’t know Canadian history, Sir John A. Macdonald was one of the founders of the Dominion of Canada and during his terms as prime minister (1867-1873 and 1878-1891) he had a transcontinental railway built. The controversy regarding him comes from the fact that during that time, the federal government approved the first residential schools in Canada.

Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first PM

The Global News’ article, The controversy over Sir John A. Macdonald, explains that the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO), one of the teacher’s unions, is lobbying to remove MacDonald’s name from schools across the province. The union claims using Macdonald’s name creates an unsafe environment for kids to learn and work in because of what it calls Macdonald’s role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.”

James Daschuk, an assistant professor of history at the University of Regina and author of Clearing the Plains says. “It wasn’t just with Indigenous people. In 1885, Macdonald told the House of Commons that Canada should take away the vote from people of Chinese origin on the grounds that they were a different race than Europeans.”

It isn’t just about Sir. John A MacDonald. In July, CBC reported in its article, Statue of Edward Cornwallis, that the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia will make a decision on the fate of the city’s controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis, a military officer who founded Halifax for the British in 1749. It was Cornwallis that issued the so-called scalping proclamation, offering a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaq person.

So where do we draw the line? Do we stop at prime ministers? Fathers of Confederation? The Ottawa Citizen’s article, Where will it stop? refers to Michel Prévost, president of la Société d’histoire de l’Outaouais and a University of Ottawa archivist.  He says some people have lobbied for the removal of Mackenzie King’s statue from Parliament Hill for Canada’s decision in June 1939 to deny entry to more than 900 Jewish refugees who had fled Germany. Already barred from docking in Cuba and the United States, their ship, the MS St. Louis, returned to Europe, where more than 250 of them subsequently died in the Holocaust.

Prévost also explains that a Father of Confederation, Hector-Louis Langevin, would have his name stripped from the Wellington Avenue building that both bears his name and houses the prime minister’s office. Langevin was one of the original designers of the residential school system.

Preston Manning, one of our conservative Canadian politician on CBC Radio’s, The Sunday Edition said,

“I think there are unsavory aspects to populism. And I think one need to deplore those, but I think one needs to focus more on the root causes of that alienation, rather that fixating on just the negative eccentricities of it.”

Most often I disagree with Manning’s views, but I agree with this one. We are fixating on the negative. It is shameful to remove those names and statues of important figures in Canadian and American history. This is not the answer. Having said that, it is important to recognize the atrocities that these people have done. We mustn’t forget that Sir John A MacDonald was the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.” or wanted to take away the vote from Chinese people. Or, that Confederate statues represent an image of America as strictly a white society. As a retired teacher, the teacher in me says these could be some teachable moments. Instead of removing the names of these historical figures from buildings and streets, or taking down statues; instead we should be using them to educate people about both their achievements and the horrific things those historical figures did.

Debate about our histories is healthy! We should re-evaluate our history. Some historians agree with me. Don Doyle, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, (see Historians Warn) says.

“I find it very exciting and refreshing that Americans are revisiting their history and questioning just why we honor some people, some events, and not others. It is a healthy reminder that history, as the search for understanding of the past, must always challenge public history as monuments and hero worship in the public sphere.”

Perhaps people are over reacting. Instead of removing all of these controversial statues of historical figures, erasing history so to speak, let’s relocate them to museums where people can be educated on both the positive and negative aspects our history. Good or bad, these people are still a part of our histories. Perhaps a plaque could be associated with each historical figure explaining the good achieved by the figure, as well as explaining the atrocities they are associated with that historical character. These people were only following the belief system of their time period. They didn’t know any different. When I taught history, I emphasized the importance of practicing historical empathy.  Historical empathy is the understanding of why people in history did what they did, as opposed to simply knowing what they did.  Instead of attempting to erase the dark periods of our histories, we need to practice historical empathy and acknowledge them. We should attempt to understand why these horrific things happened in our past so that they might not happen again. Maybe then healing can occur.

We Are Not All the Same

A commentary on stereotyping

I recently saw on Facebook a video called, All That We Share. It is a video that was created in Denmark and provides a powerful message about stereotyping. To be clear on what stereotyping is, Simply Psychology defines a stereotype as “a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.”  If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

The video discusses many stereotypes, but let’s focus on some of the common ones. First, let’s look at a big one, perpetrated by rhetoric by populist movements about immigration. A common stereotype that I’ve personally heard many times is that ‘immigrants are taking our jobs’. The reality is immigrants are usually filling job vacancies.  A country that is short of skilled workers will fill them with skilled migrants. Immigrants also will take jobs that most others are not prepared to do such as housecleaning. The fact is, migrants are not taking jobs away, rather they are filling a void.

Other stereotypes I’ve heard are; Immigrants don’t contribute to society’, ‘They are costing the country money’ and ‘They send money out of the country’. Like all of us, foreign workers pay taxes, pay rent, and spend money in our local economies on supplies such as clothes and food.  Even if they send some money to their home country, they are still helping out our local economies.

Another stereotype is; ‘Immigrants put pressure on the health care and education system’. It is true that helping newly arrived children with their English does add extra stress on the education system, but children from other countries have helped to save some schools from closure and expose children to cultural diversity which in turn builds tolerance. Let’s be honest; health care services could not function without the many doctors, nurses and supplementary staff from other countries. That is especially true for rural areas. I live in a rural area and all of our doctors are immigrants.

According to Migration Policy Debates (May 2014) using new and internationally comparative evidence on the fiscal impact of migration for all European OECD countries, as well as Australia, Canada and the United States:

Immigrants are thus neither a burden to the public purse nor are they a panacea [cure all] for addressing fiscal challenges. In most countries, except in those with a large share of older migrants, migrants contribute more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in individual benefits. This means that they contribute to the financing of public infrastructure, although admittedly to a lesser extent than the native-born.

Now there are other stereotypes regarding immigrants, but those are the ones I personally have had people say to me. Stereotypical remarks are not only made about immigrants, but also about aboriginals.  One stereotype I often heard in my youth was the stereotype of the “drunken Indian”. It was assumed by some that if you were of aboriginal ancestry you had a drinking problem.

According to a CBC News article, employers felt justified in refusing employment to aboriginal people based on this stereotype. Landlords would not rent to aboriginal people. Some establishments, bars mostly, refused to let aboriginal people enter. Taxi drivers drove past aboriginal people on the street. The daily humiliations added up to real social and economic barriers.

Not all aboriginal people have a drinking problem. That is a fact! I can personally attest to this as I have had the privilege of working with First Nations peoples over the years. Having said that, aboriginal communities have high rates of alcohol and drug use and consequently high rates of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome among their children. The reasons why aboriginal people have struggled with addictions have been studied for years. The root causes are pretty well documented. It all connects to residential schools, the Indian Act, child welfare issues, Indian agents, geographic isolation, racism, intergenerational trauma and so on. I like the way the CBC article ends.

Let’s spend our energy in supporting the healing, rather than propping up a label that only makes the healing process that much harder.

Now let’s address the most common typecasting that is occurring in our society today; the stereotyping of Muslims.  According to the Huffington Post, there are five common stereotypes.

One such stereotype that I have heard is, “Muslims hate Jews and Christians’. This is simply wrong.  There are multiple chapters in the Quran that mention non-Muslims. Now the Quran, like the Christian bible is subject to interpretation and there are plenty of verses that could be interpreted as Muslims are called to reject non-Muslims.  However, there are verses in the Quran stressing that justice be given to even those who show hostility and hate to Muslims.  Qur’an 5:8 says; “Do not let the hatred and animosity of other people prevent you from being just. Be just! That is nearer to righteousness”. That does not sound like a hatred to me.

Another stereotype is, ‘Muslims don’t believe in Jesus Christ’. What does that mean exactly? Does that mean that Muslims do not believe that Jesus existed. What people don’t know is Jesus is actually mentioned more times in the Quran than Muhammad is. Muslims believe that Jesus is an important prophet, but they do not recognize Jesus is the son of God as the Christians do. Nor do Muslims believe that Jesus died on the cross. They believe Jesus escaped crucifixion somehow. Muslims do believe in God, but call God “Allah”, the Arabic word for God.

C8TAPN Headlines Concept – Terrorism

The most common stereotype I hear is; “Muslims are terrorists” or ‘Islam promotes groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS’. This is not so. The Huffington Post rationalizes it this way.

ISIS most closely follows the ideals of Wahhabism and Salafism, which are extremist and radical branches of Islam. By best estimates, 87-90 percent of Muslims are Sunni and 10-13 percent are Shi’a, with small numbers belonging to other sects. If we go with these statistics, it’s safe to assume that Salafism and Wahhabism are less than five percent of the global Muslim population, and most likely does not represent the beliefs, thoughts, opinions, or actions of other Muslims. Additionally, Islam was not meant to have sects. However, Islam does not promote, nor does it encourage, joining radical groups. If you see stories of how people get radicalized, it’s usually through ISIS members themselves on radical jihadist forums.

In June, a Muslim “peace march” against Islamic terrorism was held in the German city of Cologne. (see Muslim Peace March).  Hundreds of marchers held banners including one that said: “Love for all, hatred for none,” and “A Muslim protects lives and does not take them”. This clearly refutes the stereotype that Muslims are terrorists. Clearly there are some who are not.

To have “a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” is simply ridiculous. To declare that all world leaders are ‘idiots’ based on the reported idiotic behaviour of one or two world leaders (no names mentioned) is flawed logic. There always have been some ‘idiot’ leaders and some fantastic leaders. It is wrong to lump a group of people together and think that they all act the same. Not all Christians act the same. Not all Caucasians act the same. Why would we think all immigrants, indigenous people and Muslims act the same? Ridiculous.