When I was a little kid in the sixties, my aunt worked for the government. Now, that aunt is lost to Altzheimer’s, but I’d love to ask her some questions.
When I was a little kid I went to see my aunt on Parliament Hill. As I remember it, on that same day I had the mythical experience of seeing Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau skip down the stairs outside the Peace Tower.
When I was a little kid in Sudbury, Ontario, I watched Chez Helen and Adventures in Rainbow Country on television. I ran through the bush pretending to be Pete and in grade four I started learning French.
One summer I rode north with my parents on the Polar Bear Express to Moosonee and Moose Factory on the coast of James Bay. Pretty much all I remember is crossing the water with the Cree boatmen. The colour of my memory is National Geographic Magazine Kodachrome. I can hear the sound of the outboard motors in my mind.
Not terribly many years later I learned about the history of World War Two. I watched Jacob Bronowski on television, walking into a pool of water at Auschwitz and reaching down to pull up a handful of mud containing the ashes of his relatives. And I learned that the people living near the Camps claimed they never knew what was going on behind the barbed wire. Like so many around me, I didn’t believe that claim. How could they not have at least a clue?
Still later I learned about the horrors of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. I realized that Buckley Petawabano, who played Pete on Adventures in Rainbow Country, had not enjoyed the childhood I’d had, running through the bush feeling at one with the earth, paddling a canoe on Lake Ramsey and diving down to the cold depths to find archaeological treasures of childhood. I came to realize that when I visited the reconstructed St. Marie Among the Hurons, that lady in the film acting the part of a small pox victim was likely the actual survivor of something as terrible.
My reaction to the horrors I’d learned of Brebeuf’s death by torture were somehow softened by the horrors inflicted on children by the government of my country.
Still later, I learned that my aunt who worked for the government had preceded me to the shores of James Bay. My mother thinks her sister had something to do with Indian Affairs and the Residential Schools, but it’s unclear what that something was.
In abject humility, I swear, I didn’t know what was going on behind those walls.
But I also swear, by all that is holy and sacred on this green Earth that I will never forget the victims and the horror. And I’ll do everything I can to make sure every other Canadian knows, remembers, and never forgets that our country, so wonderful in so many ways, attempted genocide, and the effort continued well into my lifetime — and we didn’t notice!
Please go to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission webpage and learn the Truth, and read the reports available there for download, and do whatever you can to further Reconciliation with the survivors and remembrance of the children.