If you were asked to rhyme off the ten commandments, supposed rules of God in Christianity, I am willing to bet “thou shalt not kill” is one of the ones you could quote.
Canadians are heartbroken and disgusted after the sickening discovery of 215 bodies of indigenous children recently at a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. The fear is that this horrific discovery is just the tip of a genocidal iceberg.
Residential schools were created in 1876 as free boarding schools for indigenous children, funded by the Canadian government and run by the Catholic church. In 1894 attendance became mandatory, until 1947, although the last school only closed its doors in 1996, not that long ago. The intention was to enable the children to adjust to Canadian (rather than indigenous) cultures, to convert the children to Christianity, and to civilize them. These schools were intentionally located far away from indigenous communities to limit the children’s contact with their families, fully immersing the children in their adopted (supposedly superior) culture.
Forced to speak English or French, the children were stripped of their ancestral languages and heritage. Rumours of physical and sexual abuse were rampant within the residential schools. Children that ran away were severely punished upon their return, if they returned. Many went missing, never to return, so it was reported. The dead bodies cropping up are telling a different, more sinister tale although poor record keeping and unmarked graves will make it nearly impossible to unearth the whole, ugly truth.
Back to the ten commandments. How can any religion or culture that proclaims to follow the rules of Christianity participate in such heinous acts of abuse, torture and genocide on innocent children? It makes me sick! How could those that did survive those torture-filled years ever lead normal lives afterward?
How and why are the perpetrators not held accountable for their actions? An apology is severely insufficient. This was not a single act of abuse or a simple mistake, but years of racially motivated, discriminatory, criminal acts.
Information and knowledge about and support for the MMIW database is spreading. If you are unaware (as I was) what this is, please check it out and add your support. The number of indigenous or native women and girls that are missing and/or have been murdered is staggering. Help to spread the word and bring about justice for these women and their families.
This database, created by Annita Lucchesi, a doctoral student at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, includes data from both Canada and the USA from 1900 onward. I learned of the database from my sister, currently the Dean of Liberal Education at the same university. The MMIW project does not (currently) receive any funding from any government or academic facilities. Hopefully, that will change, and soon. So far, 3148 cases have been documented, but many more (close to 25,000) are suspected.
This issue should be treated as a national crisis in both countries! In fact, I remember an election promise by current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he would treat these missing women as a priority. What is the government waiting for? This MMIW database is a good start. Hopefully it will generate more support (from the right people)than any previous research on the subject.
Recently I was invited to attend a leadership conference put on by the Ottawa Carleton District School Board of Education. Between the keynote speakers and the breakout sessions, I learned an awful lot…
The first keynote speaker we were introduced to was Zita Cobb from Fogo Island, which is the largest off shore island of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Zita Cobb grew up on Fogo Island in a culture that believes that nature and animals know everything, with seven seasons celebrated each year. Cod fishing was the sustainable way of life for generations of island dwellers until the 1960s when large English and Polish ships helped deplete the supply of cod, closing the fisheries and forcing many of the islanders into poverty. The fishing industry has since been revitalized on Fogo Island with the addition of new organizations and laws, modern technology and fisheries harvesting shrimp and crab as well as a new generation of cod. During the economic downswing, Zita’s father urged her to leave the island to further her education and broaden her horizons. She did so, and was very successful in the technology world, but the early lessons learned on Fogo Island remain ingrained in her personality and outlook on life. She shared with us that she has learned that a formal education is not the only form of education. Elders in a community have their own ways of knowing how to do the right thing for its people and the planet without a formal education. Money should not be the only measure of success; the amount of joy in a community or culture should count too. Her passion and wisdom have returned to Fogo Island to create the Fogo Island Inn, a modern masterpiece complete with 29 stunning guest suites, each boasting a spectacular view of the shoreline and sky, as well as a cinema, restaurant and library. Her new foundation called Shorefast was established to keep the economic future of Fogo Island looking bright.
A second keynote speaker was Gabrielle Scrimshaw, a young aboriginal woman who left her small town in Northern Saskatchewan hoping for a better life for herself and increased understanding for her people. Living off the land in a society filled with rampant sexual abuse in residential schools, by a mother suffering from substance abuse and a father travelling to support his career as an artist, Gabrielle struggled to survive, as most indigenous children do. Motivated by a talk at her school by a friend of her teacher, she left that life behind her, the first person in her family to attend university. She spent years travelling and learning from inspirational people she met along the way. Today, as the indigenous population grows in Canada, she hopes to teach the rest of the country that many of these first nations descendants can help shift their economy with increased education and a sense of pride. This successful motivational speaker had her audience in tears with her sad, yet inspirational stories, receiving a standing ovation for her accomplishments and achievements at such a young age.
Both of these women gave powerful speeches, a valuable lesson stressing that all forms of education are instrumental in motivating the best leaders of the present and future. As Gabrielle noted, we must “create good footprints so we can walk in a good way.” Please take the time to follow the links to read more about these two amazing and powerful women!