Monday, July 6, 2009

Justice Eludes Many Canadian Indians

First Nations and the Pacific Northwest: Change and Tradition, by Jacqueline Windh

Jacqueline Windh, The Tyee

For those who didn't know, many native Canadian Indians were taken into residential schools in the 1970s to assimilate them into the culture of the southern region of Canada. Most Canadians live within a drive of one and a half hours of the American border, because that's where the climate is generally most hospitable to live in Canada. Canadian winters tend to be cold and harsh, and the southern region of Canada is more like the northern section of the United States.

Vancouver Island tends to exist as a dreamy location for most Canadians because of the sheer heavenly beauty of ocean views and for the relatively mild climate. It's a shangri-la venue Canadians associate with a worry-free lifestyle.

A book now being released sheds new light on the seamier underside of that idyllic wilderness. Native Canadians, aboriginals as they're now called, were moved to schools to learn the social customs of the mainstream south of the continent and suffered significant harm in the process.

If it hadn't been for the painstaking and patient research of Jacqueline Windh, Ph.D., University of Washington, this sad saga would have been lost in the mists of time. It took Windh years to learn about these atrocities, and that's why it's all so believable. This sad story is a window into a Canadian freak show of inhuman treatment. But what makes it worse in my view is that nothing has been done or shows any signs of ever being done in the future in the Canadian legal system to mitigate the horrors of the abuse victims suffered in these schools.

Windh is a first responder and the first to uncover reports of acts of violence that have still to be discovered. Students were punished for speaking their native languages. They say they watched their teachers perform sex acts. Then the news gets worse. Her book reveals reports of rape, physical abuse, and borderline torture that were sanctioned by teachers, nuns and priests at the school. Sounds like the authority figures could have gotten away with murder.

Most disturbingly, the perpetrators of these crimes are still even now living amongst the abused. Teachers and clergy haven't been prosecuted, and so far haven't faced the justice system at all. In fact, Windh is saying that as justice still isn't being done, parents are struggling, uninspired to treat their own children better. It is horrible that the legal system isn't rectifying this social problem or no one's even talking about it very much. It's tragic that many of the perpetrators and victims are dying of old age without seeing justice.

Since October 2008, a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" a formal inquiry intended to give voice to and document the experiences of residential school survivors, has lay in shambles after the commissioners resigned over internal disputes. Earlier this month, however, the government welcomed new commissioners, promising the commission will be up and running soon.The Tyee

How can "reconciliation" be possible? Exactly what reconciliation is being promoted between abuser and abused and why? Why is reconciliation even being considered in lieu of harsh legal penalties?

Let's hear more about this "Truth Commission". We'll be watching.

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