The quiet became unbearable

The more I learn about the assimilation institutions in this country and the land called Canada, the deeper I fall into despair. It is so difficult to think of how these things affect my Native friends and their families. To have witnessed some of their anger and sorrow.

I was going to say but this is not about me in order to put the focus where I thought it should be, on the unimaginable suffering of my friends. But then the Spirit told me this is definitely about me and other white people. We must recon with the past before we can be part of any healing. If healing is even possible.

So much is being written now about the horrors of the Native residential schools it’s overwhelming. I have trouble figuring out what I should write about all of this. One thing I am compelled to do is call as much attention to these things as I can.

I believe in the power of stories. When I saw the following story in the article, With the help of the Mounties, the priests piled the children into boats and floated away, I felt it’s power.

Warning: The information and material here may trigger unpleasant feelings or thoughts of past abuse. Please contact the 24-hour Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 if you require emotional support.

An elder told me a story. It goes like this.

It was long ago and late summer in a remote northern village. A Cree village. Everyone still lived in tents. One day priests visited. They announced that the next time they came, they would take the children. It would be for the best, they explained. The children would go to school. The priests left, and some short time later — maybe a week, maybe two — they returned. This time, the Mounties came with them. The Mounties wore red coats, black boots and each Mountie wore a belt with a gun. The priests did as they’d promised. With the help of the Mounties, they piled the children into boats and floated away.

That evening, the villagers made their fires, cooked supper and ate in silence.

Their world was silent.

No children played or laughed.

No children quarrelled or cried.

The quiet became unbearable.

The sun had not yet set, but they crept into their tents anyway.

Soon a sob broke the silence. It was a woman crying.

Then another sob.

Then another woman.

The sun sank orange, the yellow moon rose, and all night long the only sound heard in the village was mothers crying.

With the help of the Mounties, the priests piled the children into boats and floated away By Karyn Pugliese aka Pabàmàdiz, Canada’s National Observer, June 30th 2021

“The schools were never meant to do us any good,” the elder told me. “They knew. They knew that when you break the hearts of our women, you break the strength of our nations.”

Perhaps we should stop calling these institutions schools. It’s misleading. Schools are built to teach. There may have been individual teachers with good intentions. There may have been individuals attending these institutions who benefitted. But any benefit was a side-effect. The system was designed to erase us.

Understanding the legacy of residential institutions is important, not just for the harm that policy caused. But because every policy, every program, every law aimed at Indigenous people over the same hundred-year period was shaped by the same attitudes of racial superiority. Poor water, shoddy housing, underfunded schools, child welfare. Unresolved land claims that led to standoffs with police. Residential schools were not an exception in government policy. They were the rule.

Reconciliation is not about guilt. Few people living today had the knowledge or power to stop what was happening. You didn’t do anything wrong. All of us are trapped and living with the same history. The question is, what will we do about it?

If you didn’t like what you saw when you stepped through the looking glass, you can change it.

This opportunity is precious, fragile, and it almost didn’t happen.

I worry about what will happen if it fails.

With the help of the Mounties, the priests piled the children into boats and floated away By Karyn Pugliese aka Pabàmàdiz, Canada’s National Observer, June 30th 2021

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