At the Pat Porter Centre on September 27, 2022, we were lucky to sit beside Vivian Barkley, sister of Jennifer Wood, one of the presenters. Vivian came all the way from Kitchener Ontario to support her sister Jennifer Wood today. I was impressed. Both of them are residential third school survivors. That means 3 generations of their family went to a residential school.
Vivian told us how she had been swept into an Indian Residential School at the age of 5. She explained that the authorities had really gone into their community to roust up older children, but when they came to their house she was included. She said it was a shocking day when she was torn away from her family and community at such a young age for totally inexplicable reasons that she could not understand. Her family was very poor and could not afford to pay for her to come home for her school holidays so mostly for 5 years she stayed in the school separated from her family. Can you imagine what reasons the educational authorities might give to justify their actions of ‘kidnapping’ these children and taking them away from their homes?
It is not without reason, that such actions are considered by the UN Genocide Convention to be genocide. This is how that international convention, which has been signed by Canada, defines genocide:
In Article II of that Convention:
“…genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
“(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. [emphasis added]”
Was Canada guilty of genocide. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called it “cultural genocide.” Was that qualification necessary? It also says that everyone complicit with such acts can also be punished along with the perpetrator.
Christiane and I were both struck by how much Vivian was free of rancor and resentment notwithstanding how she had been treated by Canada. How would you feel if Canada did that to your children? What would it take for you to want to reconcile with such a country? Is it something that can be done in a couple of weeks? Or a couple of years?
For Christiane and I this was a remarkable day. We learned some harsh Canadian truths by watching the program.