Over the last few days we have struggled to find the right words with which to express our thoughts and feelings on the issue of residential schools. While this is obviously not a new issue, the recent news has brought to light to alarming lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding this dark piece of Canada’s history.
In his famous novel ‘1984’, George Orwell wrote of a government which manipulates it’s citizens into being exactly who those in power want them to be. The book describes in detail how ‘The Party’, through means of torture and forced mental conditioning, subdues dissenters into believing the fabricated realities fed to them. This book if often used as a cautionary example of how unchecked powers could be abused in a dystopian future. However many fail to acknowledge that for thousands of Native-American children, this was a reality.
The first residential boarding school was opened in 1831. For over 150 years, indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to these schools with the express purpose of eliminating their culture – be it through assimilation or death. These children were starved, allowed to fester with disease and abused both physically and sexually until they conformed to the exact expectations of those running the facilities, or they died.
“We instill in them a pronounced distaste for the native life so that they will be humiliated when reminded of their origin. When they graduate from our institutions, the children have lost everything except their native blood.”
– Bishop Vital Grandin
The most disturbing part of this is that these schools were never covered up. There was no attempt to hide them from the world, or to deny they ever existed. They were not only accepted, but embraced. It is easy to say that they were from a different time, with different values and understandings. However the last residential school was not closed until 1996. Through confederation, through the entire history of our country until less than thirty years ago, this was being allowed to happen. The worst of it all though, is the complete lack of awareness, of recognition that this occurred.
The news of 215 bodies being discovered has shocked and disgusted nearly everyone. Many people have shown disbelief that something like this could ever have been allowed to happen in Canada, and some have even tried to rationalize it. The fact that such a significant part of our country’s history has been ignored by the education system and hardly acknowledged by the government is the truly shocking part. Residential schools and what happened in them is something every Canadian should be well aware of. This story has shed light not only on what happened at that facility, but on how we as a society can be grow by demanding better education and communication about indigenous history. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that over 6000 children died as a direct result of residential boarding schools. We need to be willing to acknowledge not only them, but the thousands more who survived and have lived with the trauma for decades.
We feel this is especially vital in our lacrosse community. To play a game given to us by the first nations peoples, to love it and entwine it into our lives without understanding the history of those who shared it with us is detrimental and insulting. The ELLA, as part of our mission to honour and share the history of lacrosse, will work to bring awareness to the history of Canada’s relations with the First-Nations. We strongly urge all our supporters and followers to take the time, now, to learn more about residential schools and the effects it had on indigenous communities. Bigotry and ignorance can not be tolerated in our sport.
Ignoring the past, trying to pretend it didn’t happen, or that it was just an anomaly will not change what happened and only results in more pain and suffering. By acknowledging it, working with those affected to right the wrongs and ensuring it is never repeated we can all move forward towards a better future.