To begin, clearly readers are going to scratch their heads when they begin reading this week’s column when they discover I begin by raising the issue of Christmas as the month of July has just started. But please bear with me a moment.
Celebrants of Christmas invariably hear at least once that we should all try follow the advice of Ebenezer Scrooge when he said in A Christmas Carol, that “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.” Dickens/Scrooge’s advice, while profound, is in actuality, not within human capability. But the sentiment still has incredible value. It is notion worth remembering to try to follow as often as we can, at least.
I mention Scrooge’s sage advice here because we of the crossroads that Canadians find themselves in at the moment. Just as we are about to enjoy one of Canadians most celebrated and cherished annual holidays, Canada Day, our usual enthusiasm has kind of petered out with the discovery of hundreds of child graves at two of Canada’s more than 80 historic residential schools. There can be no doubt at all that many more are about to be discovered. While most Canadians have at least some awareness of the existence of these schools in our history, few of us have any real grasp of the realities of the purpose of these schools and the atrocities that happened in them. This has to be one of, if not the darkest, chapter in the history of our nation.
Let’s be honest, as hard as it is to be so, and say what really happened. Canadians of the day decided that after the success of initial colonization efforts, that it was necessary to erase Indigenous children’s culture, language and identity so that our nation would become a homogenous society with the same language and values.
From coast to cost, Indigenous children were taken from their parents and forced to attend residential schools. Some of these children never returned home. Their families never stopped searching for them, and never stopped missing them or loving them. They were not, and are not, numbers. They are real children from real families. They are people who should have had full lives, and whose children and grandchildren should be with us today.
No doubt some will argue that this all happened long ago and that today’s Canadians didn’t have anything to do with the residential schools. Each year on Canada Day, we raise a glass to the incredible achievements of our founding fathers of whom we are so proud. Proud of our outstanding Canadian ancestors who invented insulin, Pablum, the snowmobile and the world standard time system. Canadians designed the world’s first publicly owned electricity utility that pledged to sell electricity to citizens at cost. And, of course, the men and women who succeeded in building the impossible dream — the original CPR transcontinental railroad. We love to hold our heads high and say, ya, that’s us! Yet we are the Canada who must bear responsibility for the darker things that happened, such as the residential schools. We can’t pick and choose taking credit for the good things and not the blame for the darker things that happened. So, yes, we are the same Canada of both yesteryear and today.
Here in Northern Ontario, we are seeing before our eyes the heartache and trauma that our Indigenous friends and neighbours are experiencing as more and more evidence of past atrocities are discovered.
All we can say as individuals is that we are truly sorry for what we as Canadians did back then and for all of the pain, suffering and grief that has resulted from those decisions. We can also acknowledge that the pain did not end with the loss of children and that the survivors of those schools and many of their children and grandchildren continue to suffer from the effects of the schools even to this day. The time has come for us to face the truth about Canada’s history of colonialism, which was there yesterday and in many ways continues to this day.
The good news is that today we are seeing Northern Ontarians standing in solidarity and support for all Indigenous communities, close to home and far away.
We finally understand that the time to respond with symbolic gestures and unfulfilled promises must end now. It is time for us to not only reflect upon what has happened, but equally as important, find ways to bring about healing. We need to develop concrete plans on how to together, build a better Canada that accepts and respects all races and peoples. We need to show the world that Canada is a nation committed to justice, peace and respect for treaty rights and obligations.
This Canada Day is unlike any that we have had before. This is a unique opportunity, like none before nor one to be repeated, to take action in the ‘here and now’. We must strike while the iron is hot. This Canada Day, and subsequent days, I encourage all Ontarians to join together by actually devoting themselves to learning about, contemplating and accepting what our true path has been. It’s not too late even now to make things right. Ontario can begin by fighting for an Indigenous-led, fully-funded search of residential school sites for Indigenous children, and continue pushing for all 94 Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action to be implemented.
We can still help Indigenous communities that for decades have needed access to clean water, safe housing, and equitable access to health care, education and mental health supports. We must take the initiative to help resolve the issue that Indigenous people are still dramatically overrepresented in the child welfare system.
We may be late, but we are still not too late to make a difference today and tomorrows to come.
Let there be no doubt in our hearts that Canada is still one of the greatest places to live in the world. We may not be perfect and have made some big mistakes in the past. But we can use our mistakes to make a better future; to make changes that our children and grand children can look back upon to learn from our strengths, experience and the resiliency of our most valuable resource – Canadian People.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at email@example.com or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député