Sadly, we have a long, brutal colonial history to try and overcome and there's no doubt there are still many racist stereotypes and attitudes that have to be shed.
Sterotypes have to be ditched
Amy Steele, The TimesPublished: Friday, August 08, 2008
Cyril Pierre was only seven years old when he was ripped away from the loving arms of his large family on Barnston Island and taken to a huge residential school in Mission.
At the school he was strapped, scrubbed with a bristle brush until he bled, told he was a "heathen" and a "savage" and, worst of all, sexually abused on numerous occasions.
After 11 traumatic years Pierre emerged from the school forever marked by the myriad of abuse he suffered.
No one can ever give Pierre and the thousands of other students who suffered similar horrors their childhoods back.
The residential school system is a blight on Canadian history, something we all should be ashamed of because it was our federal government that was the architect of the virtual cultural genocide that happened there.
I spent several hours interviewing Pierre and the more I listened the more haunted, saddened and angry I felt about what happened to him and other children at residential schools around the country.
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged in his recent apology, residential schools separated 150,000 children from their families and communities.
The "two primary objectives of the residential schools were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. Indeed, some sought, as it was famously said, 'to kill the Indian in the child.'"
Many aboriginal languages are now on the brink of extinction because the generations raised in residential schools didn't learn their language and couldn't pass it on.
There was also a loss of parenting skills because children were raised in institutions, not by their own parents.
Many aboriginal school victims have died much too young of suicide or because of alcoholism or drug addiction.
There is a segment of Canadian society that believes aboriginal people should just "get over" the appalling experiences they suffered at residential schools. This attitude is ignorant and entirely lacking in humanity.
During his apology Harper acknowledged the "extraordinary courage" it took for survivors to come forward and speak publicly about what they experienced.
Pierre is one of those survivors demonstrating incredible bravery.
He is a beautiful person, who 53 years after he first entered the doors of the residential school system, is still severely wounded.
Yet Pierre has summoned up the courage to speak about it to try and make people understand why residential schools had such a catastrophic impact on individuals and entire communities.
Pierre did get to see his abuser sentenced to three years jail time in 2004.
However, what's three years when the victim has a life sentence, as Pierre says.
Pierre was thankful for the federal government's apology and he's hopeful about the work of the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which will delve into the awful legacy of residential schools.
Hopefully it will finally force all Canadians to admit the wrong that was done to aboriginal people and will allow us to move forward into a brighter future. Sadly, we have a long, brutal colonial history to try and overcome and there's no doubt there are still many racist stereotypes and attitudes that have to be shed.
Pierre will be a strong leader in that quest.
- Amy Steele is a reporter for the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Times.© Abbotsford Times 2008