The Apology


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Just received my student evaluations for the international health class I taught this past year. My favourite written comment: “Are you single?” My second favourite: “We need more lame jokes and arm flailing.”

The Other Ray sends us this alternative view of Paris: a handful of fuckwads doing pull-ups from a crane dangling from the top of a skyscraper. Well, we assume it’s Paris. Could be Montreal for all I can tell. My one response: my testicles refuse to emerge from my torso, they’re so scared right now.

Cousin Ajay sends us this great screen capture from an Evangelical fundraiser. The follow-up image is here.

Meanwhile, here’s evidence that Darth Cheney blocked the possibility of talks with Iran. See, for the neocons, the only option for every “crisis”, real or imaginary, is so-called regime change.

In light of an all-but-ignored Senate Intelligence Committee report that concluded that BushCo essentially lied their way into Iraq, comes pleasing news that Dennis Kucinich is forcing a vote on the impeachment of George W. Bush. About bloody time, if you ask me. If a President can be impeached for lying about a blow job, he can damn well be impeached for lying his way into mass murder.

Now on to today’s real topic…

Today, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will issue a formal apology on behalf of the federal government and all Canadians to those Aboriginals who attended the state-run “residential school” system, which resulted in unimaginable abuse.

The blogosphere is abuzz with this story, since it’s a wedge issue for many. Those on the Left praise the move but are suspicious, since an apology made by the man whose government is openly hostile to Aboriginal health and welfare seems quite shallow. In the words of Jessica Yee:

 

“While it is good to see the government showing some sort of accountability to the extreme genocide they have inflicted on Aboriginal peoples, I have to wonder if Harper even really knows what he’s apologizing for. Because his government has, so far:


• Refused to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, making Canada an international human rights laughing stock.
• Cut the Status of Women, which included major funding losses for the Sisters in Spirit Initiative that advocated for victims of violence at the Native Women’s Association of Canada, their largest contribution agreement.

• Thrown out the Kelowna Accord, which, say what you will about it, was the first time the government actually asked Aboriginal people to be at the same table and collectively make decisions for ourselves.

• Done nothing to help our people protect our own land and has silently watched our leaders be thrown in jail, from the KI Six in Northern Ontario to Mohawk territory to the tar sands in Alberta, etc. Twenty per cent of inmates in Canada are Aboriginal, while we only make up roughly three per cent of the population.


And the list goes on…”

 

Those on the Right object to the apology for a number of reasons, among them that the Aboriginals already benefit (unfairly in the Rightists’ eyes) from Canadian taxpayers’ benevolence; and also that “we”, as in the current generation of non-Aboriginals, didn’t put them in the Residential schools, so why should “we” have to apologize?

In the words of my Internet friend Rondi: “First of all, I don’t remember giving Harper my permission to issue an apology on behalf of me. I wasn’t even around when those schools were opened.”

Similarly, in the words of Conservative advisor Gerry Nicholls: “I didn’t run, own or teach at a residential school, nor did I abuse any students in these schools. Mainly that’s because all that stuff took place about 100 years before I was born!”

There was a time when I was quite opposed to such formal apologies. I could understand Rondi’s and Nicholls’s attitudes. Also, I always felt that a formal apology is often seen to put the matter to rest. After an apology has been offered, how can one bring the matter up again? It’s a way of taking the issue off the table without actually having to address it in a productive or meaningful fashion.

It’s sort of like the payment of reparations (as was done for Japanese-Canadians who were kept in concentration camps during WWII): if ever they complain about the treatment again, some yahoo is going to say, “hey, we paid already. So shut the frack up!”

Then I invited Dr Mike DeGagne, of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, to speak in my class, and he opened my eyes to a lot of things. Prime among them was the cultural importance of the concept of apology to many North American Aboriginal cultures. To we of the West, a formal apology is a legalistic mechanism, often hollow words, and an ultimately pointless gesture. To many of these people, Mike contends, an apology is a necessary and vital first step in achieving closure.

He also said that such an apology must have two dimensions: it must be genuine and it must be unqualified. An apology is a recognition that a wrong was done, and thus permission for the victim to stop blaming himself and to seek healing. This may sound airy-fairy to many of you, but the fact remains that it is insisted upon by these people. And make no doubt, there are survivors of the Residential School system still with us, suffering in silence much like survivors of the Holocaust did.

As one commenter on rabble.ca said, “what you say is of equal importance as to how you say it. We will be listening carefully to his words as well as to how he says them.”

Aboriginal communities in Canada are beset with drug abuse, suicide, and a plague of other issues, almost all of which can be shown to be partially rooted in the policies of the Canadian government over the past hundred years. An apology is an acknowledgment of Canada’s past, something a fair number of “conservative” Canadians refuse to do. Here are a few quotes from that bastion of reasoned though, the Western Standard blog:

“Having been here for thousands of years, one might think the natives would have done more than live in tents and scalp their enemies. I feel the modern day aboriginal is looking for as many handouts he is able to garner from the government.” –Roslyn

“There are only 3 things I wish for our native brethern [sic]. Get a life. Get a job. Get out of my wallet. They want every amenity the white man has to offer but want their old way of life. I am sick and tired of begging for forgiveness for what happened in the past. Had nothing to do with me. This is 2008 not 1950.Government screwed up. They always screw up. Get over it.” –peterj

“it’s all about money, our money. We white people work for that money and pay taxes to support the Reserve Indians.” –LizJ

“Aboriginals, Indians, Natives or whatever they are calling themselves these days were given a free education through the residential school system but that still wasn’t good enough for them so they concoct this story about physical and sexual abuse to get even more money out of the federal government.” –Will Williamson
And the list goes on…

For those who still insist that since these crimes occurred “100 years ago” and therefore not of our concern, remember this: the prosperity of this nation is based on the initial grab for furs, timber and land that occurred 100 years ago, and continued well into the 20th century. This grab happened only because of treaties signed by Europeans with Natives, which were then broken by the Europeans. It also happened because of a programme of systematic cultural and biological genocide, of which the Residential School system was an important and intentional part.

Thus, the standard of living we enjoy today is a result of unholy crimes committed decades ago. This may have been done without our sanction, approval or participation, but we nonetheless benefit from it. From both a legal and ethical perspective, when one benefits from a crime, one is party to the conspiracy that that crime represents.

As an immigrant to this nation, I readily agree to adopt the legacy of this nation and to answer for its history, because I benefit from that history. Why should those actually born here do any less?

Therefore, to those who insist that since “we” were not party to the thing that Harper is apologizing for today, I say: Suck it up and share in the apology, or do the honourable thing and give back all the benefits you have reaped from the Aboriginal genocide– including your money, your land, your liberty and your fresh water.