…I had a chance to watch the prime minister’s apology for the residential schools and the subsequent speeeches [sic]. I wish I were in Canada to take part in a moving moment in Canadian history. I hope, as I am sure almost all Canadians do, that as a society we can collectively start to tackle the problems that so many aboriginal communities face.
But, please, let the apology not become an icon, something that we pull out from time to time and admire and then put away again. Let it not be something that makes us feel good about ourselves so that we can avoid thinking about the things that should shame us.
Apologies are a fashion today, and on the whole a good one. This past February, the Australian government finally said sorry for the decades-long practice of seizing its Aboriginal children from their families and giving them to white families to be brought up “white.”
Apologies are good both for those who are admitting their past sins and those who receive them. Accepting the past, as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission showed, is an important step towards moving into the future. But words are cheap if they are not preceded by serious thought and followed by serious action.
What did it really do when Tony Blair apologized for the Irish potato famine? Or when the descendant of the notorious Elizabethan Sir John Hawkins apologized for slavery? Are such apologies anything more than easy sentimentality? And what do apologies mean when they are not accompanied by any significant acts of restitution? Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said “sorry,” but significantly did not explain what his government was going to do about the lot of present-day Aboriginals.
What is Canada going to do for today’s Aboriginals? I am still waiting to know. I don’t want to think that dwelling on the past a way of avoiding dealing with the present.
It’s a bit of a mystery…why Stephen Harper is only apologizing today for the residential schools program. The program certainly merits a plea for forgiveness, but it was only part of the program aimed at eliminating Indian culture and completing the European domination of the country.
You could argue that, since Canada didn’t exist as an independent country until it was already too late for the natives, the broader campaign wasn’t really our doing. That would make it the fault of somebody in London or Paris, since they were the ones calling the shots at the time. But stealing an entire country demands more than just a government order; it requires the enthusiastic participation of the general population, which in Canada’s case was willingly given.
So, strictly speaking, the apology given in the House of Commons today should be for the overall willingness of Canada’s founders to participate in the subjugation and humiliation of the First Nations before, during and after 1867, viewing it as a necessary evil towards establishing a new nation in their place. It derives from the same sense of guilt the Catholic church plays on, the need to recognize the roots of the entity you belong too [sic].
I don’t know why the government isn’t doing that. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact the subjugation and humiliation goes on to this day; that the government, and Canadians in general, are embarrassed and frustrated that the poverty of so many native communities continues to resemble third world countries rather than prosperous, pleasant Canada. It may also reflect the continued lack of a clear understanding of what to do about it. Begging forgiveness might highlight too much that the government doesn’t have a solution.