Restoring fairness to Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal Peoples
Last month, after six aching years and the testimony of more than 7,000 survivors, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report on the residential school system that forcibly separated aboriginal children from their families and created an indelible moral stain on the Canadian experience.
The stories of the residential schools – their purpose and what happened at them – are shocking to modern Canadians for three reasons. Firstly, they are recent: the last school closed its doors in 1996. Secondly and sadly, the school system was actually born from a hopelessly misdirected effort to “help” the children. And finally, these events all happened close to home, wherever you live in Canada.
I am not aboriginal. I grew up in a fair-skinned, freckled family in a community where everyone was fair-skinned. We knew absolutely nothing about the First Nations communities and families nearby. We never thought about the peoples who had inhabited the land that we now tilled. Our notion of local history was based on white settlement. Our communities, our culture and our school systems were all thoroughly colonized.
But here’s what I find disturbing about the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Canadians failed to recognize the residential school system as racism.
In the mid 1960s when I was carrying my lunch to a one-room school in Proton, the southern U.S. was the battleground for the civil rights movement. We all knew about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Privileged white students from across the U.S. and Canada traveled to places like Mississippi to fight against segregation and voter suppression in solidarity with the black population Thoughtful Canadians spoke up because they recognized racism.
But as Freedom Summer raged in the U.S., here in Canada, our own governments were engaged in the Sixties Scoop. Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in residential schools, run by churches, where the goal was to “kill the Indian in the child”. As Canadians passionate about civil rights, we failed to mobilize around racism on our own doorstep.
Generations of lost children. Broken spirits. Broken families. Broken trust.
In his testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, former Prime Minister Paul Martin declared the residential school system “cultural genocide”. He pointed out that the system was a deliberate effort to eradicate the language and culture of our aboriginal peoples.
Now the champion of the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, the former Liberal Prime Minister was the architect of the Kelowna Accord: a series of agreements between all levels of government and the leaders of five national aboriginal organizations. The Accord was seen by aboriginal leaders as a major step forward, and would have seen billions in funding to support education, employment and living conditions. The Accord died when Martin’s minority government was swept from power by an NDP and Conservative vote of non-confidence in 2006.
A decade later, we have another chance for our own Freedom Summer. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has provided 94 recommendations to redress past wrongs and start on the path forward for Canadians. We all need to support those recommendations and participate in implementing them.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said that “residential schools remain the greatest moral stain on our history”. And last week – in a remarkable speech at the 36th Assembly of First Nations – he made it clear that the Liberal Party has made First Nations a top priority of a future Liberal government. Trudeau remains the only leader to make the commitment to honour the 94 recommendations… without exception. We don’t know how much it will cost and we’ll expect a dialogue about how best to accomplish the recommendations. However, for the first time since the Kelowna Accord, we have a path forward. We stand at an important moment in history: acknowledging the mistakes of our past and starting on a way forward.
Freedom Summer is personal as well as national. I am thinking about my young nephew, the sweet-faced image of my fair-skinned sister and her wonderful partner: a member of the Nicola nation from Merritt, B.C.
It is a great Canadian moment and we all share it together.
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Kimberley is a lifelong communications professional in the agriculture and finance sectors, Kimberley has enjoyed a successful career spanning work in journalism, small business advocacy, public relations and marketing communications. Her work has taken her from agricultural research stations in rural Ontario to investment management offices in Dublin, Ireland.
Kimberley continues to work privately as a communications consultant in the financial sector and has shared her expertise as a part-time faculty member at Wilfrid Laurier University in nearby Waterloo.
Kimberley began her education in a one-room schoolhouse in “Agnes Macphail country” in south Grey. She graduated from Grey Highlands Secondary in Flesherton before leaving the community to pursue her university studies. She is the mother of four children and lives with her husband, Glen Drummond, and their daughter Isabel in Owen Sound. Glen and Kimberley are also the owners of 100 acres of the original Love homestead, near Hopeville, where they manage the family’s historic maple sugar bush. She is dedicated to issues impacting rural ridings like Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, including economic security, environmental and agricultural issues.
Kimberley also believes that our future, and that of our children and our planet, relies on people getting engaged in politics. She hopes to lead the movement for change in Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound.
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