Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Can we Change?

Last week I had a brief conversation with a member of the St. Paul's congregation who is an RCMP officer and often works in the Ontario North with native communities. He was on his way once again. Our family lived in Northern Ontario for eleven years so we touched on the seeming inability of people to connect the plight of aboriginal individuals and communities with the root causes of oppression in this country. I appreciated his sensitivity because he often sees the worst. I saw some of it as well, as the minister of a downtown Sudbury church.

Since we talked the terrible circumstances in Attawapiskat have made their way into the news. Even though winter approaches and many people in this remote community are living in tents without adequate clean water or food, governments have been slow to respond. Even now as aid arrives the government officials who are responsible have not visited the community.

At the same time there have been meetings across the country to consider the grim realities of education for First Nations children. While governments and churches have apologised for the Native School system of the past, the truth is that many young people must still leave their communities to attend high school and their departure from familiar surroundings often results in tragedy.

I really do consider this the shame of a country which is such a leader in human rights in other parts of the world. To add to it all, some band leaders have betrayed their own people, taking huge salaries and siphoning money away from essential services for their gain.

On White Gift Sunday our children will do a presentation based on The Huron Carol. I wonder if they know that native communities still exist, something that didn't come home to our family in a very real way until we lived in the north. I have mentioned before that our kids went to a school where native children attended but some people suggested we might want them to go elsewhere because of that.

Any thoughts or comments? How can we keep these issues before our southern Ontario congregations without just piling on a load of guilt?


IanD said...

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin has devoted his life, post-politics to bringing these kinds of issues to light. His foundation is working to combat these issues as well, and as PM his Kelowna Accord was ground breaking in its attempt to right past wrongs.

In the meantime, I would say that the media could surely do a better job of covering these issues. I can't believe they're (the issues) not getting the kind of press they deserve, given what's going on.

Nancy said...

Having grown up in the north, I attended school with Native children, and many were on teams etc. They were bussed in from the Reserve and many found it a priveledge to attend school. My brother's track coach was Native and this teacher is still very involved in education in northern Native communities.

You ask, how can we keep these issues before our southern Ontario kids, Native Studies is taught in Grade 6 and I am constantly making our students aware of the issues. I've shared stories with them and will continue to do so. Education, education, education.

janet.rice said...

Yesterday I heard an interview on CBC-TV with a parliamentary secretary to the Territories Minister (who oddly wasn't available to speak to this current issue). This secretary has refined the skill of saying nothing in as many words as possible. No matter how often Carole McNeil reworded her question and threw it back at him, he responded with the same bafflegab. If this parliamentary secretary represents how the federal government is handling this file, then no wonder northern communities are struggling.

Anonymous said...

When I was just five years old we lived in a now non-existent place called Casier. It was a small asbestos mining town very near to the Yukon. I went to a one room school with mostly native children. It wasn't until I was much older that I understood that what I witnessed in my everyday life back then was racial discrimination. Even though we were the ones infringing on their space, those children were treated very differently than we were. It was as if everyone around me was showing me that there were two levels of people, us and the inferior. It was very confusing and painful. Once, in school, when we were warned not to run back to our seats after some activity or another, I forgot myself and ran to my seat. To my horror the teacher called the native boy who sat beside me to the front and strapped him, calling him horrible names.I don't know what disturbed me the most, the name calling or the fact that she had also pulled his pants nearly off so that he was exposed to us, or that he had not run. I had. I felt humiliated for him, and didn't know what to do. I tried to comfort him when he got back to his seat, but was forbidden to. I never really recovered from that. It felt like I had been implicated in a crime, which I had been. I felt guilty for a long time, but I never forgot it. What lingered in my mind forever was the knowledge I had at five, that I was expected to ignore the native children. There was a taboo about assossiating too closely, and I think that is what is still implied to us collectively- the idea that there is a 'they' and that 'they' are not quite like 'us.' Even at five, I knew this was a lie.