It takes little effort to be harsh

We could sit in judgement and curse yet another heartless act by the Republican Party in the United States as they tear children from their mothers when they cross the American border fleeing killer drug gangs, but on this file, we’ve got our own unresolved history.
Of course, I speak of residential schools and our past genocidal treatment of First Nations peoples. As American Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, cherry-picked a Bible verse to justify splitting a nursing mom from her baby we used church-run residential schools to house and ‘white up’ our aboriginal children by taking them away from their families, culture and language.
If you’re like me and had the privilege of a stable home, a loving mom and dad and great education, it is impossible to truly understand the psychological generational damage thrust on our First Nations by successive governments’ broken promises.
The Truth and Reconciliation hearings are a good start, but as privileged Canadians, we also need to develop compassion. Three books helped me to broaden my understanding of why we are where we are today and the absolute necessity to significantly invest in our First Nations peoples and communities.
Fiction writer, Joseph Boyden’s book, ‘The Orenda’, is set before confederation, during the time of warring tribes, fur trading with Europeans and the arrival of missionaries. What I found particularly poignant is how Boyden transported the reader into the thoughts of each of the three main characters; the chief (these strange men in their black robes), the priests (such savages and heathens) and a little girl taken captive from another tribe (planned revenge and intense anger). Boyden successfully gives the reader an opportunity to walk in another man’s thoughts and feelings.
A short, easily read memoir by Theodore Fontaine, ‘Broken Circle’ is also a must. It’s the life of a residential school survivor and the lifetime impact that had on him and his family. Fontaine at the tender age of seven was taken from his mother and father and spent 12 years in a residential school. This book is inspirational as Fontaine shares his personal journey from the dark legacy of Indian residential schools, his life time failings and his successes and his process towards healing and reconciliation.
Finally, I would recommend a story by Charlie Angus, “Children of the Broken Treaty” which follows the campaign of a young Cree girl, Shannen Koostachin, who got the attention of Ottawa over the conditions and plight of children attending federally-funded schools on Northern reserves. Angus briefly and succinctly recaps the history of successive governments failing to live up to the signed treaties. This book left me uncomfortable, but motivated. Although Agnus is an NDP MP, he committed in his Introduction to limit wherever possible personal anecdotes or undocumented exchanges with officials, and instead opted for sources that were documented and verifiable by the reader. He refuses to make this a partisan issue; it’s a human issue.
With better understanding by those of us who have pre-conceived notions or just follow sound bites, don’t underestimate the power of understanding in solving divisions or developing compassion for a former adversary.
It takes little effort to be harsh. It takes strength of character to be compassionate and understanding. It takes humility to admit when we’ve wronged others through our actions.

B.P. Schimke

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