I say it's complicated.
Others say it's not.
It's black and white
It's classic good and evil.
My history and your history is anything but black and white.
And while aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians try to reconcile their differences so too do I try to reconcile historical truths with the truths I know.
|Letter about Wabasca Residential School, 1935.|
The "Sixties Scoop." Thousands of aboriginal children taken from their families in Canada in the 1960s, many with the mistaken idea that these kids did not have a family that would love and care for them. A whole generation of kids, victims of transracial adoption. A generation denied its heritage. Kids who as adults now don't know where they belong. People who now suffer identity crises and mental health issues after growing up outside of their own culture.
How do I reconcile what I know with those truths?
|Some of Grandad's young friends in the Far North|
|My brothers, sister and me.|
I have a letter my mom wrote to my sister. My sister was speaking on cross cultural adoptions at a conference. My mom related a story about my brother.
When he was about four he said, "Mom, I'm not an Indian, am I? I don't want to be." We had never kept this a secret but a ten year old had taunted him I guess. This was in the sixties and he hadn't seen many aboriginal people except in Cowboy and Indian movies, so I said "Are you thinking of the movies where the Indians fight the Cowboys? Where they are barefoot, ride horses and carry bows and arrows? He said "yes." I explained that the pictures were of olden days and that all people are different today...
Just once, he said, why can't the Indians win?
Looking back, we cannot imagine our lives without our four children...They are all well educated and gainfully employed and now we have grandchildren. Most important, all of them have learned that people are people and cannot be judged on race or other differences but only on the values they hold.
When my brother and sister each turned 18, they met their birth mothers and chose to live near them for some time. My mother never expressed any concern with their choice. Their birth mothers attended their weddings. My sister now lives on the Tsawout Reserve, three doors away from her birth mother. She herself has an adopted aboriginal son and is an adoptions worker. I can't say whether adoption ruined my siblings lives. You would have to ask them. But I think I know what they would say.
My husband and I are both teachers. We worked in the NWT for two years where we taught aboriginal kids. Wonderful, creative kids. Many of them lived in atrocious conditions- some of them did not get enough to eat. Others lived with alcoholic relatives who went on month-long binges, leaving young kids to fend for themselves. Others were sexually abused by family members. Five young people committed suicide in a five month span in a town of 450 people. We did our best with these kids. We fed them. We visited their homes. We talked to their parents and uncles and aunties and grandparents. We communicated with liaison workers to find better living conditions. Did we try to assimilate these children into mainstream Canadian culture? Were we part of a tradition of cultural genocide? Perhaps. But I also know it is the only place I have ever worked where I truly believe I made a difference. It mattered that I was there.
Today, I am a distance education course writer. My course materials include lessons about residential schools and aboriginal issues. I hope one day to assist with building courses in Aboriginal Studies for all Albertan students, including my First Nations students who tell me "I don't understand what land claims are" and "Can you explain treaty rights again?" And while I do that, I ask myself who am I to teach kids what it means to be aboriginal? Maybe right now, I am the only one.
History is not black and white. It is a place of shadows. It is gray. It is not simple. I know there were atrocities committed. Perhaps my protestant guilt has led me to where I am today in my relationship with aboriginal people. Perhaps it is how I was raised or who my parents and siblings and students are. Or maybe just simply my humanity. Whatever it is, my reconciliation includes looking at my own history and knowing that somewhere between our good intentions and their evil effects is truth. And I have made my peace with that.