Column like I see 'em - Canada awakens from a severe case of historic amnesia


By Eoin Devereux

Neepawa Banner & Press

It appears that Canadians recently learned that Canada is not everything they thought it was, and it’s shaken many of them to the core. With the recent discovery of now over 1,000 bodies in unmarked graves at former residential schools across the country, people have awakened from what could be called a severe case of historic amnesia.

This disturbing part of our history, up until recently, was a blind spot for most of us. In a poll commissioned by the Canadian Race Relation Foundation and the Assembly of First Nations, two-thirds of the Canadians surveyed said that they knew a little or nothing about the history of this country’s residential school system. The poll was taken just days after the discovery of 215 Indigenous children’s remains in Kamloops, BC.

I wish I could say that I was fully aware of the truth beforehand, but that’s not the case. I had only a vague understanding of the history, but like so many other Canadians, Kamloops was my moment of shattered ignorance.

Ancient history?

The purpose of the residential schools was to indoctrinate Indigenous children into the “proper/civilized” society. It saw them taken from their families and unable to see them for months or years at a time, forced to speak a language that was not their own, pray to someone else’s God and to submit to someone else’s monarchy. A version of that mandate was still being enforced until 1996, the year the last of these schools closed. I was already 23-years-old at that time. My high school diploma is five years older than the end of residential schools…That might be the best example, but here are some others to give better context:

• The 1994 Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock blockbuster motion picture Speed is older;

• Wonderwall, the 1995 #1 hit song from British group Oasis is older;

•The first three seasons of the TV show “Friends” are older than the end of residential schools.

Please understand that I’m not trying to be flippant here with these examples, I just want to present the proper cultural perspective for any of you that want to say that this is all “ancient history”. The trauma of residential schools haunt survivors who are much younger than me, and perhaps much younger than you.

A difficult truth to acknowledge

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 and investigated the residential school system’s legacy. The findings were detailed in a report made public in 2015 and laid bare the harsh physical, emotional and sexual abuse that was inflicted on First Nations children. All the facts have been out there and available for the last six years. So why are we as a nation all so shocked by the recent details?

Perhaps it’s a case that, for far too long, our history books have not given an accurate account of Indigenous people. The pages of history are always written by the “winners”, so if those victors view an entire culture  as “savage”, then doesn’t that make it easier to view them as wholly disposable, and therefore ignorable?

Or perhaps it’s because the text books used for generations to cover Canadian history weren’t talking about residential schools, because it was still going on.

Anyone reading these words was not directly responsible for the creation of Canada’s residential schools, but what we do with this information next will entirely be our responsibility. Is this an eye opening moment for Canada, or are we going to go back to sleep?

Disclaimer: Column like I see ‘em is a monthly opinion column for the Neepawa Banner & Press. The views expressed are the writer’s and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press.