Reprinted from “the newspaper” (www.thenewspaper.ca), University of Toronto’s Independent Weekly, June 2008
Harper’s Hollow Apology
By Lee Maracle
On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered the long overdue apology for the forced removal of the First Nations children from their families to attend residential school. Harper apologized on behalf of those who didn’t survive, and Jack Layton, leader of the NDP party addressed those who did not attend, those who committed suicide, and those who died from the effects of the residential schools. They also announced a two-billion-dollar fund in reparations. I imagine that they all thought this would want us to forgive the government, run from our reserves, blend in with the rest of Canada and “let the healing begin” as one friend of mine put it.
This apology does not come after any kind of settlement or reconciliation between the First Nations who have a number of issues all waiting to be settled. Not the least of which is that Canada acquired half a continent that once belonged to us without our consent. What is clear after reading the Union of B. C. Indian Chiefs, Stolen Lands, Broken Promises, and Dr. Roland Chrisjohn’s, The Circle Game, is that the Residential school system was part and parcel of a colonial regime, bent on not just “killing the Indians,” but also stealing the land.
Along with the removal of children came death by numerous epidemics, such as smallpox, to which the First Nations were often refused vaccination, sometimes at gunpoint. Another blow came in the form of the steady appropriation of land, prohibition from participating in the economic and commercial life of Canada. The destruction of the economic means of survival, which included hunting restrictions. Prohibition from voting, and from entering the work force, paved a way for the disenfranchisement of Indians. To put salt on the wound they even prohibited singing and dancing – none of which fit into this apology. Reverend Kevin Annett refers to the history of residential schools as part of a genocide plan. Dr. Roland Chrisjohn alludes to residential school history as part of the colonization of the First Nation’s people. In that case, this apology rings hollow and false. Until, colonialism ends and our access to the wealth of the country is restored on terms to which all First Nation’s people can agree, there is little to forgive.
Lee Maracle BIO:
Lee Maracle is the author of a number of critically acclaimed winning literary works including:Sojourner’s and Sundogs, Ravensong, Bobbi Lee, Daughters Are Forever, Will’s Garden, Bent Box, I Am Woman, and First Wives’ Club: Salish Style, and is co-editor of a number of anthologies including the award winning My Home As I Remember, Telling It: Women and Language Across Culture. She is a member of the Sto:Loh Nation and has served as the Distinguished Visiting Professor at both University of Toronto and Western Washington University. In 2009, Ms. Maracle received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the St. Thomas University. Her upcoming work, Memory Serves: and other words will be published by Coromont Book sin 2013.