26 July 15
TOUCHING BASE 280
Series: The Book, Part 13
Too Many Stop Signs
This is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
Our message Sunday July 26th was on Acts 15:1-21, with the Big Idea that we need to “Build Bridges, not Barriers.” Early in June this year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its report after being asked to tell Canadians about the history of residential schools and their impact on Aboriginal people and how the process of reconciliation needs to take place.(1) This touching base references an online document titled, “What we have learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation.” I strongly encourage every Canadian to take a couple of hours and read it. The link can be found in the endnotes of this TB. The other things I write about come from things I have learned at Constance Lake, and from speaking with local writer and author Bob Wells.
The direct link between the Big Idea - Build Bridges, not Barriers - and the report is that massive barriers were built in Canada between the Aboriginal peoples of Canada and non-Aboriginal people of Canada. The report calls this barrier that was built, “cultural genocide”, and I quote from the report: “It was a cultural genocide. People were beaten for their language, people were beaten because ... they followed their own ways." (2)
Residential schooling started in the 1860’s under Prime Minister Sir John A MacDonald. This of course was in the day when getting a letter from Ottawa to Vancouver took 6 weeks. It did not take long before the Canadian Government asked the churches of Canada to run the schools for them. Aboriginal children were then sent to schools far away from home. Having the churches run these schools often meant what took place at these schools was done in a religious way. From visits to Constance Lake First Nation I have noticed that the community is deeply spiritual - I have only met one person who would consider themselves an atheist - the rest all believe in God, or are theists. Can we begin to picture, then, what it must have been like for children who were aware of spiritual things, and in some cases, Christ followers, to attend a school run by the church, where there would be cultural genocide? In many schools, this created deep spiritual abuse, creating huge barriers between Aboriginal children, their parents, and God.
Of course there would have been times when godly Christ-following believers did not spiritually abuse children. My mentor’s parents, who now live in the Kingston area, were asked to run a residential school in Red Lake, Ontario. They reported to me that the parents were grateful for the care they were able to provide as it allowed the parents to do trapping in the wintertime, which required them to travel. However, these positive testimonies are not the norm. The report recognizes that the “central element of the education provided at these schools would be directed towards the destruction of Aboriginal spirituality.(3) One residential school survivor, Mary Courchene, reports “Their only mandate was to Christianize and civilize; and it’s written in black and white. And every single day we were reminded.” (4)
The abuse, however, was more than spiritual. Students were also often punished for speaking their own native language.(5) The education had nothing to do with Aboriginal culture or teachings, but what has taught was that the only good people on earth were white Christians.(6) There was abuse with food, where not only students were forced to eat food of little nutritional value, they were also forced to eat their own vomit after throwing up the school’s food.(7) Nor will be ever know how many students died in residential schools: “The most serious gap in information arises from the incompleteness of the documentary record. Many records have simply been destroyed.” (8)
I could go on what the reports of abuse stated in the document I am referencing, but I think I also need to share with you information from the stories I have heard while visiting Constance Lake and the effects of residential schooling I see there.
When children are raised at schools hundreds of kilometres away from home, they rarely get to see their parents. One of the effects of not being raised by their parents is that children do not learn how to properly be parents themselves. Students who went to residential school had no choice but to do their best with their own children, with next-to-no training. These students are now Elders in Constance Lake, and many are in their eighties. From my limited perspective, they don’t seem angry, but have deep grief over what happened at the schools.
Their children, however, seem much angrier. They are angry that their parents did not have what they needed to provide for them and their siblings. In order to cope with this enormous emotional wound, many people who never went to residential school, but who are living through its effects, have turned to alcohol and drugs as a way of self-medicating the pain. The next generation, and the next generation after that, are the children and youth we serve in our youth and day programs in the community. These children know very little about their own culture, and other than the odd word; they are unable to speak Cree, their native language. The youth we work with do not always use drugs because they are angry but because they are very available and accessible and for many youth, drug use is normal within their families. This, of course, causes even more social problems.
Am I angry? Yes, I’m very angry, and I’m very sad that even though we live in Canada, a land that proclaims freedom, many of our Canadian Aboriginal people are still suffering from the damage caused by Non-Aboriginal (Canadian) people.
In the 1980’s the churches began to apologize for the harm caused at residential schools, including the destructive impact of missionary work.(9) Most of us will remember that in 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with the full support of Parliament, apologized on behalf of Canada.(10)
How do we continue to reconcile? From the report: “In 2015, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada wraps up its work, the country has a rare second chance to seize a lost opportunity for reconciliation”.(11) One of the greatest ways you can help Canada reconcile is to know and understand the issues. Read, listen, dig into this issue and draw your own conclusions. As believers we can pray through this issue. Those of us who have opportunities with Canadian Aboriginal people need to spend our energy listening, and creating respectful relationships.(12) Lastly, on October 19th consider voting in our federal election for the party that you believe is going to best serve the Aboriginal people of Canada.
Thank you for taking the time to read this TB. If you have any questions I would be happy to speak with you. Again, for further reading and information please see the link below. Let’s build bridges, not barriers.
1 “What we have learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation” found online at http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Principles%20of%20Truth%20and%20Reconciliation.pdf, p.99
2 Ibid, p107
3 Ibid, p27
4 Ibid, p46
5 Ibid, p52
6 Ibid, p53
7 Ibid, p59
8 Ibid, p60
9 Ibid, p98
10 Ibid, p99
11 Ibid, p113
12 Ibid, p126