Thursday, August 23, 2007

Canada's Blind Spot

I haven't really heard much or seen anything about this issue, which may be in part due to the fact that I don't have cable at home, and I read daily papers more frequently during the school year but according to this CBC article, Ottawa is going to be handing out a 1.9 billion dollar compensation to former students of Native residential schools who suffered through this system and who "opt-out" of the class-action settlement.

I don't know about anyone else out here, but I never really did get a thorough education about Canada's native history. We got bits and peices here and there in elementary school learning vague notions about Native lifestyles pre-colonization, and then in high school, we'd look at a lot of Native art. But that's about all I can remember. Though, aboriginal women's issues has come up often in my women's studies classes as part of the course's curriculum, so maybe that's a place I can start from.

From what I do know about residential schools, they were terrible places that fostered the horrors of institutionalized racism. When you're learning it in school, such ideologies are much harder to resist and to not internalize. I'm pretty sure that there were quite a few more abuses that went hand in hand with this kind of 'education'. Residential schools certainly did nothing for the empowerment of Canada's Native peoples.

They're estimating that out of this 1.9 billion dollars, that each person who opts out is going to get about $28 000. That's a lot of money in one go, but a pretty cheap price to pay to get someone to promise to never seek any other action against the government or anyone else involved in these matters.

Doubtless, many people need that money, and it can go far for individuals if the community has the tools to enable that, but still...

And out of potentially 80 000 students, they are only expecting 5000 to opt-out, but still...

(and they're are only expecting to average out $28 000 per recipient? hmmm...)

So many questions, mostly because I am so admittedly ignorant about Native histories in Canada, except to know that this country doesn't have a very good track record. I am aware, for example, that many of Robert Picton's victims were Native women who got lost in the shuffle of social concern. But that's just in news that I have heard recently. And that came from one of my classes this summer, as well as attending a feminist conference earlier.

One of the things that I wonder though is why this isn't bigger news? This news bite called the class-action suit being filed 'historical'. But most people I talk to don't really know about it, or talk about it. It's not as out there as I would have expected. It seems to me that something this big should be inviting more active conversation with both the government and Canadian citizens, Native and otherwise. After all, such issues remain largely unresolved. This kind of thing seems to me what we should be talking about in classrooms and newsrooms, especially since it's an issue that involves such a huge amount of people and should be hitting all Canadians close to home. As a colonized nation, one way or the other, every citizen is implicit in this type of history/current event.

It's not a particularly nice view of Canada, but I for one am not someone who thinks these kinds of discussions and events should be swept under the rug. If we are going to be an imperfect nation, at least we can be honest about it. And then do something proper about it.

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