Growing up, I was taught that healers must be engaged in the lives of the people. I often think of my beloved teacher, Ipu, who repeatedly risked his life to aid his people in the Amazon. He was a gentle, loving man, with a fierce commitment to social justice, and an acute understanding that social issues lie at the heart of much suffering. When I am asked why I devote so much of my blog to social change, I find myself feeling bewildered; after all, the fates of the Earth, individuals, and whole peoples, are tightly interwoven. There cannot be true healing without justice.
A focus of many Indigenous people these days is the history of the residential schools which were common in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, during the last century. These were institutions designed to “save the person by removing the Indian”. Untold thousands of children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in residential schools, often many hundreds of miles distant. Once there, the children were subject to harsh treatment, horrific abuse, and, much too often, death.
Here, in Vermont, many children found themselves in St. Josephs Orphanage, in Burlington. Many of the practices documented for residential schools were utilized at the orphanage, with horrific long-term effects. I have heard scores of stories from close to a hundred survivors, narratives so painful I would have nightmares for weeks following our meetings. Now the city appears to be actively seeking to erase and forget this dishonorable chapter of local history.
In recent years both Canada and Australia created commissions to look into the histories and practices of these institutions. The ensuing reports make mind-numbing reading, yet they also open the door for healing. Still, neither government has followed through on the recommendations of their commissions, and many Indigenous people in those countries consider the results of the commission process to be profoundly flawed, if not disingenuous.
Hakea wrote the following note to me when we were discussing the situation in Australia: ” I do not want anyone thinking that Australia is a shining example in Aboriginal matters. Cultural and racial genocide is occurring right now, it’s just got a different terminology attached to it – ‘lifestyle choices’ and ‘economic growth’. All of the commissions and enquiries and apologies were for nought. Injustices are still being wrought upon our Aboriginal people. Institutionalisation is rife. Young Aboriginal people consider that going to gaol is a rite of passage. Australia cannot be held in high regard on Aboriginal matters. So much shame. (See the Documentary – Our Generation (2010)).”
In the U.S., Federal and State governments have refused to address these histories and the lingering suffering they created. It is difficult to imagine the multigenerational trauma will be addressed until governments and religious organizations take full responsibility for their actions. Laura Trace Hentz has been following the commission responsible for investigating residential schools in Canada. Below is her latest dispatch. I hope you will share Lara’s article with others.
I do not know if readers of this blog have followed what is happening in Canada and their years-long investigation called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In 2014 I heard Justice Murray Sinclair speak about TRC at Yale. READ HERE. He spoke about their findings and what the Canadian government promised to rectify the abuses in the residential boarding schools. Many churches and provinces were mandated and forced to release their records to the commission.
The definitions of genocide fit the TRC findings. They call it cultural genocide. Children lost their family. Some children lost their lives. Children. This happened to children.
What happened in Canada also happened here in the US. We don’t have an investigation by our government. WHY? I don’t know and I don’t know if it will ever happen.
After the residential schools in Canada, the 60s Scoop took even more children and placed them with non-Indian parents. And it’s not over. It’s ongoing there and here.
– 2015, essay and photo, Michael Watson, All rights reserved; Lara’s bio is HERE.