The stories of Canada’s colonial history keep popping up and invariably it seems, they reveal horrendous treatment of Indigenous People in Canada by the dominant society. The latest that I heard about was the story of the Atikamekw First Nation in remote northern Quebec near Wemotaci. The story was shown on CBC National News.
In the 1970s children who needed medical attention in that First Nations Community had to be taken off reserve to southern hospitals a 100 km. away or more. Unfortunately a number of these children were taken away “never to return again.”
Alice Petugauy was a mother of 15 children. She said she was able to take care of all of her children except one—a daughter Diane. Diane had pneumonia and had to get health care that was not available in their community. She was taken away to the hospital but did not return. When her mother inquired of the authorities what happened to her daughter she was told, “Don’t worry about it. You have other children.”
Alice Petugauy was not satisfied with this response and made further inquiries. It took her a long time to get more information. Eventually, years later, she learned that according to provincial records Diane had been “abandoned.” Of course this was not true. Alice learned that she had signed a document that gave up custody of her child. At the time she signed, the document had been translated into her language by a local priest, because she could not read French. She thought she was consenting to health treatment for her daughter. She was actually saying good-bye to her daughter.
A local social worker, Diane Beliveau, said that it was common in the Atikamekw community for children to be apprehended by Child Protection Services without good reason. Little or not evidence was needed to justify the apprehension. Authorities were predisposed to apprehend.
Many of these children never returned but surprisingly Diane did. She returned as an adult many years later and was reunited with her family including her twin brother. However, by then she could not speak the Atikamekw language and had lost the culture completely. As she said, “Something is missing in me. Something I have lost and will never be able to get back.”
I know that some Canadians are getting tired of hearing apologies from their Prime Minister. They want the Prime Minister to be more like George W. Bush who said, “I am not an apologizing kind of guy.” However, the actions of provincial authorities and all who acquiesced in such actions are despicable. The cultural leaders of the colonizing people—us white guys—have a lot to answer for. Will one more apology be needed? What is much more likely is that many more apologies will be needed.
I know that many white guys feel no personal responsibility. They did not do it. yet us ‘white guys’ are the people who have benefited from this system of white suppression of indigenous people. We are privileged because of that system. At the very least we should make it clear that we object to that system and we are sorry that others who were not so fortunate as we were suffered as a result of that system.