It’s a beautiful morning and your sitting around the kitchen table with your wife and children. Each of you is preparing for the day ahead; the kids school, you work, and the wife what ever it is she’s going to be doing, when there is a knock at the door. You give the wife the “who can that be at this time of day” look, and motion her to keep her seat and get up give who ever it is the bum’s rush.
When you get to the door your greeted by the sight of a smiling man in a suit carrying a clipboard.
“Mr. Jones” he says with a faint note of inquiry to his voice?
There is something in his manner which pre-empts your initial plan so you reply with what you hope is a firm “Yes”.
“Ah good” He looks down to his clipboard with just a slight glance of his eyes, double checking it seems. “You have two children, a boy and girl, aged 8 and 10, is that right?
“Yes, hey listen…” is a far as you get.
“I’m with the government, I work for the child welfare office. It has been decided that you and all people like you are unfit parents so we are going to remove your children from your care. We will ensure that they are brought up in a manner more appropriate to how we want your people to be.”
You step back stunned. This must be a joke. But then you look up over his shoulder and out into the street.
There’s an old school bus and a truck parked in the middle of the block. Soldiers with weapons are standing around both vehicles with that bored guarded stance taken when they know they may have to do something, but don’t feel under any particular threat. Already there are blank faced children being led from doorways up and down the street. An unearthly silence is punctuated by the occasional muted sob as parents stand stricken in their doorways.
You stand there helplessly slack jawed staring at the bland smiling face in front of you, hearing the muted sounds from behind the kitchen door of you family… two of whom you may never see after today.
“Is there a problem Mr. Jones? I can show you the paper work if you want and you’ll see that this is signed by the proper authorities. There’s no need to worry about the children. They will be well taken care of where they are going. We will provide them with a better future then you could hope to.”
His eyes track over your shoulders and you hear a slight noise behind you, a sign of movement.
“Ah good Mrs. Jones and the children. No need to pack anything for them. All will be provided. At the government’s expense of course. You won’t be expected to pay a cent for this privilege. Go along out to the bus now children and you’ll be given your new names when you get on board.”
“New names” your wife’s voice is faint as the children file by down the front walk. She clutches your arm. You will always remember the feel of her nails digging into the crook of your elbow. It will serve as the constant reminder of the day your heart was torn out.
There is a rustle of paper as the man with the clipboard slides a sheet out from the bottom of the pile stacked there, and hands it to you. You stare at it blankly. The typed words sprawled across the paper are the iconography depicting your soul’s destruction. The word receipt is meaningless in your ears as it falls like ashes from his lips to your ear.
You make one final attempt at communication. “Where…?” is as far as you get.
“I’m afraid we can’t tell you that. It’s been shown that limiting their exposure to unsuitable influences provides the best results for the children. It’s all for the best.”
One final tight smile, a nod, and he turns and walks away. Carefully avoiding stepping on the newly sod front lawn he turns at the sidewalk to the neighbour’s next door walk way.
He’s tired he realizes as he approaches the next door on his list. They’ve been at this since yesterday with very little break time. Still all in all it’s gone much better then he has anticipated. Maybe he’ll be able to get home to the wife and kids a day earlier then planned. With that happy thought he knocks on the door with a slightly wider smile on his face then he’s worn for a while.
From the beginnings of our conquest of North America various methods were used in attempts to either destroy or assimilate the indigenous populations that we found here. Decimating their food supply, investing blankets with small pox, removal from ancestral territories, outright slaughter and cultural genocide.
Since so many native tribes proved able to withstand the attempts to eliminate them as a race physically, by the end of the 19century it was decided that new tactics were needed to bring them to heel. The governments of both Canada and the United States decided to attempt mass cultural genocide through the eradication of language and beliefs.
To achieve this goal they established, with the aid of various Christian denominations, a series of residential and boarding schools across both countries. Children were forcibly removed from their parent’s homes and shipped hundred’s of miles away from family and friends.
The first stage was the removal of all aspects of their cultural heritage and identity. Each child was renamed, their hair was shorn off, and their personal possessions and clothes destroyed. All communication in any language but English was forbidden as was any worship of anything but Christianity.
They were taught that their parents were evil and that their way of life backwards and savage. They were told that they were less then human and that their only recourse was to renounce all traces of who and what they had been. Although they could never of course be mistaken for white people, they could always hope to find something useful to do for their betters.
They were all given vocational training in the most servile of positions. The girls were forced to do laundry, scullery, and other housekeeping jobs to prepare them for lives as servants, while the boys received equally menial training with the view to providing cheap manual labour for the future. They were given to understand that they would not be suited for anything else.
The great lie perpetrated was that their so called preparation for life in the civilized world only ensured that when they were released into the world and moved to the cities they would be the poorest of the poor. Unlike immigrants from other countries who brought their culture and community with them for support, these immigrants from the schools had no such solace.
Too many of them bore the scars of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as their only heritage. Unable to speak the language of their parents the option of returning to the reserve was equally bleak. Empty shells of people, plenty of them drifted into the destitute lives of alcohol and substance abuse in search of some solace.
As recently as the 1970’s child welfare agents had the authority to remove children from Indian homes if they thought them unsuitable. These children were then placed into white foster homes where abuse and neglect were the norm not the exception. Only recently have the various nations been able to enact efforts to start healing the gapping hole that had been torn in their chain of generations.
Unlike European faiths there is no single specific “Indian” culture. This is a misconception that has been perpetrated by new age wannabes looking to sell themselves off as shamans or medicine people. Each nation had it’s own traditions and beliefs, some as different from others as Christians, Jews, and Muslims are dsitinct.
As a predominantly oral culture the destruction of language is the hardest obstacle to overcome. With it’s destruction comes the end of the means to tell the stories that defined a people. Already hundreds of nations have vanished and many more language groups are verging on extinction. Even among nations that are strong like the Haudenosaunee(People of the Extended House: Iroquois) its an up hill battle. One of the six nations who make up the confederacy, The Tuscarora, were down to only six people who could speak the language fluently five years ago.
What is needed mainly is the time and the resources to accomplish this task. In Canada while there has been some movement by the governments to aid in this reconstruction, including court enforced settlements of hundreds of years old land claims, it is too little too slow. Far too many people appease themselves with demeaning comments about welfare bums and drunken drains on society then admit to a societal complicity concerning the situation.
They look at tax exempt casinos, status cards, and free health care and say what more do they want? These sops to our conscience are little compensation for the damage inflicted by years of neglect and abuse. Restitution, restoration, and reconciliation are what is needed to begin paying back the debt owed to those we have supplanted.
Australia has begun a program of reconciliation which culminated a few years ago in a cross country march of over a million people showing a commitment on all levels to rebuilding the relationship between the original peoples and the newcomers. That is the example we in North and South America should be emulating.
There was a cynical joke making the rounds a while ago where the infamous thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock was referred to as the first welfare line. Some thanks we’ve shown. Maybe it’s time we repaid the favour.