Monday, June 23, 2008

Who's Sorry Now?

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Won't you please accept my apo-lo-gee-ee?"

The dulcet tones of Brenda Lee wouldn't be lost on Little Stevie Harper who rounded-off his parliamentary year by apologizing to the native Canadians for all the bad governments, Churches and social agencies that dragged them out of the bush, hundreds and even thousands of miles away from home, to schools where they would lay the groundwork for the lives of drug dependency and social degradation that many of their descendants live to-day.

Almost immediately the chorus of 'not good enough' went up. There are generations who've been scarred by the fact that Granny spent her 'tween age years in the care of nuns and didn't get a chance to run off to 'live' in the big smoke. Them generations are going to need some compensation for their 'trauma'. And that's what's wrong with a government apologizing - somebody's right behind with the chequebook.

Frankly I can't perceive of a lot being wrong with what happened - for the alternative was something worse. There may have been some aboriginal parents who wanted, and were able to keep the kids in the native ways, but most saw the opportunity to move their kids 'ahead'(or even just away) and took it. This was the best that they could get. Indeed if it hadn't been for that experience there would still be a dearth of Indian teachers to-day. Many schools on reservations are no longer staffed by non-native teachers - they have their own - some of whom learned in residential schools. A recent news report noted that the average age of speakers of aboriginal languages is 60 - the majority of whom who were 'abused' and forbidden to speak it, in the residential schools. The non-abused youth of to-day, I imagine, have been traumatized into not bothering to learn.

Residential schools may not have been the optimal situation but they were 'free', and generally well-staffed. The children had good nutrition and health care that might not have been available 'at home'; they were warm, and clean and had something to do. None died of abuse or neglect. There may have been abuses, but no more than are found on every reservation to-day and, probably, then as well.

The problem with starting apologies is figuring out where to stop. So far the Chinese have been 'restituted' for the poll tax applied to their sires. The natives have received at least two apologies now. How about the Acadians? Or the Irish, aren't they due one? The Ukrainians are 'in line' for one, as are Austro Hungarians interned during the Great war, and Japanese moved during the Second. What about a slew of DP's and refugees 'forced' to not live in the urban areas of Canada and consigned to the 'sticks', don't they deserve some largesse along with the 'sorry'?

The Natives were even extending their own apologies to the Japanese for living near, and working in the uranium mines from which the A bombs were made. Does that mean an official government apology for being allied to the American bombers could be far behind?

Ultimately there will have to be a hearty 'I'm sooo sorry', accompanied by a nominal federal cheque, to all Canadians especially the hyphenated kind who chipped in for the 'sins' we had no hand in, of forefathers to who we had no relation. But by that time 'we Canadians' should have 'screwed somebody else over' and we'll be able to begin again.

Right now we're working up a future apology to the Afghans. On the other hand I don't think any country on earth has had to apologize for invading another one, so we might be 'good' there. On third thought, Canadians have a penchant for apologies that harder-nosed nations don't have, so.....

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