Home Letters Like Canada, Guyana needs National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
It’s 2021, and the Government of Canada introduced a new federal holiday on September 30, which will be called The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was established in 2008, called on the Government to document the history and legacy of residential schools. These schools operated for indigenous children from the 17th century until the late 1990s, as part of the colonial policy financed by the Federal Government and administered by the Christian churches to assimilate aboriginal children into Euro-Canadian Society.
These children were forcibly removed from their homes, families and cultural ties, and taken to schools where they experienced starvation; poor health care; and physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Their language and culture were deliberately suppressed. Attendance was mandatory, while religious conversion was imposed by the superior race, which created heaven and the rules how to get there.
Approximately 150,000 children were forced to attend this network of residential schools, where many experienced shame, deprivation and abuse, and death. it is estimated that more than 6,000 students did not survive.
After the schools were closed, former students went public with their horrifying experiences, and demanded recognition and restitution. The result was a formal public apology by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007.
For those who went into slumber after that, thinking the idea of European cultural superiority is now bitter history and the West has moved on to respect human rights, recent events in Canada may appear like a nightmare.
Earlier this year, hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered of indigenous children who were ripped from their families and forced to attend these religious Christian schools, mostly Catholic, financed by the Government of Canada. The search for more bodies continues with the use of ground-penetrating radars.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologised, while calling on Canadians not to celebrate Canada Day this year, but to regard it as a day of mourning to reflect on the country’s historical failures and injustices that still exist today. He also asked the Pope, the head of the most powerful religious institution on earth, with wealth beyond that of many nations, to do the same.
Rather than celebrating the birthday of Canada this year, some brave souls of all religions took to the streets to demonstrate support for those who actually discovered Canada, and insisted that history books be changed to reflect this fact. All political leaders promised to do more. Some, however, pleaded for peace, as violence and the burning of churches which followed was not the way to appease the anger that was generated by the gruesome findings.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops also apologised for this grave injustice. The world awaits an apology from the Vatican.
A delegation of Aboriginal leaders expects the Pope to come to Canada and apologise on Canadian soil, and return to the tribes the lands on which the schools were established.
Reconciliation requires admission of truth, no matter how painful, before there can be constructive action addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism. That legacy was to destroy the religion, culture and language of the Aboriginals and other nature culture peoples considered as inferior.
Whether it is Africa, Asia, or the Americas, the intent and results were the same – destroy their educational training grounds, cultures and languages; convert them, and they will assimilate.
Up to the 1960s, schools in Guyana were mostly run by religious bodies, and conversion to Christianity was a prerequisite for employment by Government. This hegemonic relationship may not be the same today, but it has left families and communities in tatters.
Witness the lack of religious knowledge and practice of many who can trace their ancestry to India. They are so well assimilated that while many just converted to get Government jobs and other opportunities to improve their social status, there are a few who are carrying on with the white man’s burden to civilise the rest of the population.
Here, too, are needed truth and reconciliation commissions, for the harmful consequences are still evident in society. Suicides, domestic assaults, alcohol abuse and other social ills bedevil Indian families above all others.
There can be no reconciliation unless there is truth, and peace can only follow admissions of wrongdoing and corrective action. There is room for all, and those of us who lived even in the smallest village with neighbours of many cultural backgrounds can easily point to good people of all religious groups, and evil ones too.
There is a Reparations Commission so the descendants of slaves can obtain compensation for their sufferings. One for the descendants of indentured servants has also been raised in public discussions, and is sure to follow.
All is not lost, and it is not too late to stop the unnecessary and demeaning practice of telling others that they worship the wrong god and need to be saved. A good starting point is for all religious leaders and interfaith advocates to take a solemn oath that they will refrain from so stating. They should also insist that others from their own religion do the same.
If not, they should take notice that the day is rapidly approaching when those who adopted the institutions and leadership roles of the European hegemonic culture and religion will be called upon to apologise for the raping of cultures that worship nature in ways that protect the water, the air and the land.
Shanti, shanti, shanti.