What is an apology? Prime Minister Trudeau stated in his apology in June that was “ an incredibly harmful policy that was part of Canada’s reality for decades” He spoke to the horror and shame that Canadians feel about a policy that ripped children from their homes, their culture, their language, and their communities and that has left decades of lived experience for all Indigenous people as they try to survive the trauma and intergenerational trauma with all of its consequences and are now dealing with the unbelievable and pain and grief of finding the graves of so many of their children who were neglected and abused so badly that they died.
This is the truth and we need to add our apology….We are sorry, intensely sorry as individuals, professionals, and as an adoption and permanency community who want to create safety, belonging, and loving relationships for children, youth, and families. However, we also know that intentions are not enough, and as we state that apology this evening, we need to deeply recognize that this shame belongs to all of us, and with apology must come a very different level of awareness and responsibility. We know some of the truth, we train our permanency parents about the 60’scoop in Canada but this apology and responsibility must go much farther and much deeper and must emerge from within each one of us in our hearts as well as our minds. “That means recognizing the harms, the impacts, the intergenerational trauma, the cycles of ongoing challenges that far too many Indigenous peoples face in this country because of actions that the federal government and other partners deliberately and willingly undertook.”
Indigenous people live with that knowing and all its consequences every day of their lives, as it affects all aspects of their lives and now in 2021 they are mourning and grieving the deaths of so many of their children.
As we acknowledge we recognize…that this is not a shame or wrongdoing that we can apologize for or reflect on for a moment and leave behind in history … the policies that justified the government’s residential school policy have a very long history and legacy ….Canada’s 1rst prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, told the House of Commons in 1883:
“When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men”
These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will. Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott outlined the goals of that policy in 1920 when he told a parliamentary committee that “our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic. These goals were reiterated in 1969 in the federal government’s Statement on Indian Policy (more often referred to as the “White Paper”), which sought to end Indian status and terminate the Treaties that the federal government had negotiated with First Nations. The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources. If every Aboriginal person had been “absorbed into the body politic,” there would be no reserves, no Treaties, and no Aboriginal rights.
The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.” The neglect, abuse both physical and sexual, and the lack of care or compassion in their lives led to intense trauma and death, it is now often being called genocide.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard from more than 6,000 witnesses, most of whom survived the experience of living in the schools as students. The stories of that experience are sometimes difficult to accept as something that could have happened in a country such as Canada, which has long prided itself on being a bastion of democracy, peace, and kindness throughout the world.
Getting to the truth is hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. It requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of the residential school system be rejected as the basis for an ongoing relationship. Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed. It also requires an understanding that the most harmful impacts of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours. Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.
In its 94 objectives the Truth and Reconciliation Committee the 1st objectives are with the Child Welfare System ….and that is where we must begin in adoption/permanency. For the line between taking children from their original families, cultures, and communities as was done in the policies of the Canadian government and what the “protection” of children from any original families means and our reasons must always be under scrutiny. While compassionate adults and professionals are horrified by these policies, we cannot distance ourselves completely or too far … it has only been in the past few decades that we have recognized the impact of not knowing one’s culture, identity or the trauma the truly occurs for children not connected with their history and original families, culture and community.
This is a time to reflect on who we are and what we believe … as an organization that operates a Child Matching databank and will soon operate a Central Intake system we need to be scrupulous in understanding the beliefs and values that still lurk in the shadows from this legacy … and to do that we must learn, the ACO needs to take responsibility by the Calls to Action…our first must be to educate ourselves, to learn, to listen to the voice of the Indigenous people and the truth and wisdom they hold about the work we do and the connections we have from history that need to be changed.
After as we take the time to learn, we listen slowly and deeply and then we make it our priority to develop our partnerships with our Indigenous partners, for they and only they know the path that needs to be walked.
Tomorrow on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation the ACO will gather, to reflect, to learn, and part of our learning will be to not let our shame, our uncertainty, our fear prevent us from doing the listening and challenging that we need to do at this time in our work and culture.
That is when an apology is beginning to be made…and only beginning.
Dianne Mathes, Executive Director of the Adoption Council of Ontario