Truth and Reconciliation?

Disclaimer of sorts:  I wrestled with this one.  I can’t help but make it sound a bit anti-First Nations because of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  But it is much more anti-process and anti-bureaucratic stupidity in the form of commissions than it is about the actual people.  Please believe me.  I actually think FNs are doing more as citizens than the rest of us these days but I make a point of their faults as well.  That’s the trouble with mud-slinging – people get dirty.  But, that’s the trouble with people – they get dirty on their own, too.  

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recently overseen or been instrumental in revealing the impact of the Residential Schools program on indigenous peoples.  Those who felt impacted by the flaws in what was seen as a well-intentioned program applied for compensation and many were successful in their applications.  About $140,000 was given to many of the self-identified victims.   Fifty six thousand people received about $25,000 and 30,000 people received a further $115,000* (averaged).

These monies are not the only amounts provided indigenous peoples for wrongs and mistakes we have made as a society.  But, what is really crazy is that the constant flow of money doesn’t seem to fix anything and some of the mistakes are still being perpetuated.

We’re all doing something wrong.

Hypothesis: it is the remedy prescribed.  It exacerbates the problem.  It doesn’t fix it.

Money, it seems is deemed the panacea for all harm done in our society. Because the harm done by the residential schools is still being passed down – it is claimed – to this day, and more young indigenous people are suffering because their parents or grandparents suffered, it is proposed that the T&R Commission continue and, presumably, continue paying compensation or channeling cash.  The Residential Schools/Truth and Reconciliation Commission may be the good/bad deed that keeps on giving.

I have extreme sympathy for the direct child-victims of specific crimes that came from the schools.  I even have great sympathy for the more general damage wrought by the larger accident of the plan itself.  Taking kids from their families is traumatizing at the very least and, in most cases, there was no good that ever came from it even if the particular child was never criminally violated.  It was basically just a bad thing done even more badly.

But life is hard sometimes.  It is not a walk in the park.  We all have to deal with hardship and carry on.  Some more than others.  Back in the day, it was not only aboriginal children who suffered physical punishment and deprivation, all kids did.  Kids were caned, spanked, beaten and were ill-treated across all segments of society.  Child abuse as we define it today was almost the norm.

Read Charles Dickens.  Read any book describing a poor kid’s life pre-1960.

My father was wounded in WWII and was 100% disabled.  He was a mess.  Our lives suffered greatly.  We had trauma.  We had deprivation.  We had immense hardship.  Maybe we should have sued? Maybe I should start the largest class action suit of all and sue all the governments involved for the damage wrought from WWII.  Why not?  Greece is contemplating suing Germany for WWII.

Or, maybe I shouldn’t.  Maybe I should just move on and make the most of what I have.

I am a white, privileged male in a patriarchal society seemingly designed to benefit me all to hell all the time and doing so while victimizing others.  I must be sitting pretty.  

(Honestly, I am way too ‘lucky’ to complain about anything – even the stupid, anti-white man bias.  It is just my nature.  It is not my fault.  I blame the government.)

But if the self-defined perpetual victims out there have their way, I should feel guilty and make reparations for all that has gone wrong for the last few hundred years primarily because I am male and white. Growing up in ghettos and getting CARE packages while attending thirteen different schools before graduation does not exempt me from the incredible privilege of white skin, gender or even my participation in the system of evil it seems.  I am bad to the bone.  So, sue me.

FYI: being the only white kid in an all black school in the poor section of San Francisco, California, was no real advantage while I was there, I can assure you.

My response: That was then.  This is now.  Now is different.  Now is good.  I blame no one for then.  I am grateful for now. 

Can there be another reasonable perspective?   I don’t think so.

But, let us get back for a minute to Truth.  Does anyone really think that the truth was fully revealed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? How does the context of the overall societal norms back then get factored in?  Who’s re-writing this history?  Or is the truth somehow further obfuscated by this expensive and pandering exercise?   Does anyone else see any truth being openly revealed to all by the issuance of money to the few?

Don’t get me wrong: I do not begrudge the money or the gesture – especially to individuals struggling to get by.  Nor do I think wrongs should be ignored when brought to light.  I question our reliance on these bureaucratic processes and other mock mea culpas to do anything real.  Or even if anything real can be done.  What’s done is done.  And I really question beating ourselves up for wrongs done by previous generations.  That can go on forever.

See the Middle East.

And what kind of truth and reconciliation requires the continuance of the process of more truth and reconciliation?  Wouldn’t the continuance of that institutionalized ‘my bad‘ simply be an acknowledgment that neither the truth nor the reconciliation process worked?

And what kind of society are we encouraging with this ‘pay me for my pain’ approach? Shouldn’t we do something more constructive than just pay lump sums to some lumps for mistakes made?

Here is the truth.  The residential schools were a poorly conceived idea made even worse in practice.  And they continued on too long.  Those affected should take the compensation offered, close the book and get on with life.  They cannot be made whole again.  They will walk with wounds.  We all do.

Here’s the reconciliation: Canadians, generally speaking, are tolerant, accepting and embracing of others. Victims should work to heal themselves and become more acceptable and embraceable to Canadians.  The potential is there. It’s a two-way street.  Both sides need to move on.  With behaviour, not money.

Let us look for a minute at an even harsher truth.  The government makes mistakes.  Large scale.  All the bloody time. See: Residential schools, war, immigration, police, the senate, health care….the list is way, way too long….  And that is not about to change except maybe for the worse.

Worse?!  The government wants even more power to make potentially even larger errors.  Are we not – by allowing them to legally interfere with us (Bill C51) – simply setting up future generations to have to pay even more compensation to an even larger group of victims?  And wouldn’t those victims (like smokers are today) be somewhat complicit in that injury by voting for it?

Can I vote to have my rights violated and then sue when they are?

If you are not sure about that question, ask yourself this one: Can I smoke cigarettes KNOWING they are unhealthy and then sue the tobacco companies because my health suffers?  The answer in Quebec is ‘yes’.  Can I live a life of irresponsibility, crime, drug-addiction and anti-social behaviour and then sue because it was all deemed to be the government’s fault?  The Truth and Reconciliation answer seems to be yes.  The two issues just mentioned are not closely related causally to each other except by one thing: are these plaintiffs taking full or even enough responsibility for their own decisions, their own lives?

Shouldn’t the individual be the one regarded as primarily responsible for his or her choices in life?  Even from accidents?  Kids?  No.  Not so much.  But, if you make it to 16 or 17 then you have to start to lead yourself and, if you make it to 19, you have to take the full responsibility for your life and how you live it.  Even when bad things happen to good people, it is the individual who has to take the main responsibility for fixing it.  Money doesn’t do it.  Commissions don’t do it.

You have to do it.

That may sound a bit harsh but that is the way I see it.

The real new truth is that we are now living in a money-fix, victim-as-profession madness.

Apologies for the length of this blog.

5 thoughts on “Truth and Reconciliation?

  1. There is much atonement ahead and further penance to do. This issue is very complex and as of yet only ten percent or so of this truth has emerged. It’s the submerged part of this Canadian narrative that is yet to be revealed. Canadians have heard a truth but not the whole truth. Many books have been written on this topic to little effect because the “greater truth beyond the facts” becomes subservient to the parsing of the facts claimed in the report. The facts will be challenged, memories will be challenge and responsibilities for wrong doing will be challenged. Regardless a great harm was done to all Canadians. I admire your courage in addressing this topic.

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  2. Thanks. I deserve it. This is a hand grenade with the pin pulled out. NOT the T&R all by itself but the whole ‘racial victim’ issue – with the FNs being deemed the most hard-done by. And rightly so. But one major piece of the question is their role in their own lives. They have to step up.
    And, as for race…? I don’t think too many people are racist, actually. I think they are greedy and selfish and carve out pie for themselves based on a zero-sum view of the world. So they discriminate to better themselves, not put down others. The results are much the same but it is not about skin colour. Never has been. It is about greed and selfishness.
    You only have to live in a white ghetto for a while to learn that. Or any ghetto for that matter. The humanitarians have it basically right – we are ALL in this together.

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  3. The Residential School nightmare is the tip of the iceberg as far as “blame” and financial compensation as a remedy for all that ails us….

    The Mt Cashel orphanage pedophilia scandal of the 1980’s in Newfoundland ended with a private catholic school in Vancover being second mortgaged as it was an “asset” owned by the Brothers convicted and financially liable for the horrors perpetrated by their employees.
    Unwed mothers in Quebec during the DuPlessis era. Forcibly incarcerated, their babies adopted without their consent, forced to work in prison conditions for little pay for years…….all because they were unwed young girls. ‘Fallen women” in 19650’s Quebec.
    The “Butter box” babies scandal of Nova Scotia from the 1920’s to the 1960’s
    Blacks in Halifax, segregated, marginalized and abused.( Trivia: one of the first recipients of the Victoria Cross in Canada was a black sailor from Nova Scotia in the 1860’s)

    We could go on and on and on.
    History is full of disgusting, illegal depravities wreaked upon powerless innocents.
    Exposing the wrongs is wonderful. Shoveling money at victims?
    I’m not so sure.
    Did the actual perpetrators “suffer” financially? Rarely or Doubtful
    So where is the “punishment” for the criminals when the anonymous taxpayer picks up the tab?
    Is “justice ” really served?
    The govt should be offering free psychiatric consultations for the survivors, subsidized housing, etc.
    I just dont want to see this money spent aimlessly and then “round 2” of cash payments

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    • There is definitely that part of it – more money given and to what end? But, looking at it from the victim’s perspective: ‘what am I supposed to do with this money that is supposed to heal me?’ Buy a Ford F150? And, if I am still unhealed, why will more money always be the answer? Does ‘white’ society think that money is the answer to all questions? If so, why learn, why experience, why gain knowledge from schools or work when a ‘fat wallet’ is always the answer to all things? And, if money is the answer all the time, why do lawyers get most of it? Why do bureaucrats get the second most? After I cash my cheque, buy my truck, what then? I guess I will have to teach this ‘system’ to my kids.

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  4. Unable to think of the perfect, or even “just” solution, but certainly throwing money at a problem rarely solves it. As you point out, this doesn’t let the government off the hook. There are a few legitimate cases where money will help. Assistamce In the form of better living conditions, including clean water, housing suitable to the environment, combined with counselling and education, is a far better solution. An Ottawa memorial in a visible location would also give credence to the acknowledgment of the wrongs. Spoken apologies are cheap.

    And you are right about one thing. When people say they can’t help what they do because of past wrongs (abusive parents, schools) they have lost some credibility. If you are aware of your bad deal, then there is only one way to go.

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