a Kleenex wall built on a technicality
Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized to survivors of Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools. Wait, what??…didn’t that already happen in 2008 with Stephen Harper’s apology? Why another apology almost 10 years later?
Well, the fact is that the Inuit and Innu of Newfoundland and Labrador were left out of that apology on a technicality. You read that right. In fact, in 2008 “Harper’s speech specifically noted that residential schools were established in every province other than Newfoundland and Labrador…” [read more here]. But the reality is that there were residential schools and orphanages in Newfoundland and Labrador — but some were established before NL&Lab joined confederation, and after they joined, the federal government contracted the work to the Province.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be a survivor whose experience was specifically excluded from an apology that was being given to people who experienced a similar or the same victimization, but for one survivor, it was described as a “slap in the face”. I feel like that’s an understatement.
All that makes today’s apology significant. When I was working as a Diocesan Archivist, I created a brochure which was titled “It Happened Here” to try to help local Anglicans understand that the atrocities of residential schools didn’t happen in some far away country in some era of days gone by. It happened in places where they lived, worked and worshipped.
I feel like the government of Canada finally got that message. It didn’t happen in some far away country in days gone by. It happened here. To the original People of the Land. To Canadian citizens — though they understandably may not recognize or want that citizenship. And all this with the federal government happy to contract its genocidal agenda to someone else, and content to hold out on apologizing for broken homes, families and lives based on a technicality. Some are not ready to accept the apology. I hope people will respect that. It was a long time in coming, and is bittersweet for many.
In the end I don’t believe that it will be the words of a Prime Minister or any other government or Church official which will make or break reconciliation in Canada, although they are important. What will make or break reconciliation in Canada will be the hearts and minds of people like you and me — Indigenous and settlers alike. It will be our desire and will to come together and recognize the face of the Creator in one another.
To listen and learn, and to take action to make sure that not only does this never happen again, but also that the manifestations of a genocidal system of colonization which still exist today are called out and systematically dismantled.
For those of us who are Christians, this is not simply a nice and decent thing to do, but a Gospel imperative. We have no business ignoring it or hoping someone else will take the lead. We are to be the hands and hearts of Love in the world as Christ taught us — without any exclusionary technicalities.