Column: The case for truth and reconciliation

When I was a kid growing up on Standing Buffalo Reserve near Fort Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan during the 1970s, I remember my father explaining why sometimes grown men would quake with fear when they saw a white man in a suit with a briefcase.

That was because it meant the man with the briefcase was maybe coming to take their children away and put them in a residential school.

It was an eye-opening moment for a white boy who happened to be living on the res because my father was running an adult education program for the residents.

The residential schools were first proposed by the Bagot Commission of the United Province of Canada in 1844, which recommended training aboriginal students in “… manual labour or Industrial schools … isolated from the influence of their parents, (so that the) pupils would imperceptibly acquire the manners, habits and customs of civilized life.”

In 1879, the follow-up Davin Report said boarding schools would remove aboriginal children from the “retarding influence” of  their parents.

One tool that was deployed to prevent contact between parents and their children was the pass system, whereby people could not come and go from reservations without the written permission of the Indian agent.

Under the “pass system,” First Nations parents living on reservations were forbidden from visiting their children in the residential schools more than four times a year.

Exceptions were made if a child was ill —  but then only if the school told the parents.

There have been many other racist rules on the books in Canada, regulations that, among other things, prevented  First Nations people from speaking their native language, practicing their traditional religion, appearing in any “public dance, show, exhibition, stampede or pageant wearing traditional regalia” and voting.

But while those laws may have been repealed, it seems the racist sentiments behind them are still with us.

Some of us, anyway.

The CBC was recently forced to shut down all online commenting on stories about First Nations matters because of the sheer ugliness of some comments.

It was also one of the reasons cited by the Times Colonist newspaper when the Victoria daily shut down all of its online commenting.

So if anyone out there thinks that racism and residential schools are issues that don’t require further discussion, they might want to consider George Santayana’s famous remark that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

That is why the proposed truth and reconciliation task force for the Township is a good idea.

So we never forget.

And it never happens again.

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