Monday, May 05, 2008

Residential schools and genocide

I’ve been busy these past few weeks but now have a slightly freer schedule to get caught up commenting on some things I’ve wanted to for a while. I'll start with with the residential school and genocide accusation that came out a few weeks ago.

Dr. Dawg, Mike at RR and others have some excellent discussion going on surrounding the suggestion there may indeed be mass graves of Aboriginal children from the days of residential schools. It is a terrifying thing to contemplate that this may have some truth to it. I would frankly be surprised if it didn’t. Here is my case for investigating.

I am not an expert in Aboriginal affairs, let alone residential schools, but I have heard eye-witness accounts of abuse, torture and murder of children from Elders who went through the system. I have listened to frank and honest descriptions from people who were removed from the land they grew up on and subjected to racist education in the schools. In one instance, a child of seven or so was regularly beaten and submerged in a tub of ice-water for bedwetting. This child, I am told, died at the hands of these priests in front of the other children.

I also know someone who was a member of the police in a remote community with a Cold War military presence. This individual left the police in no small part due to frustration with the lack of investigation into alleged crimes against Aboriginals, such as the accusation rape of adolescent girls by members of the RCAF.* For comparison, a decades-long resident in a remote Northern community recently expressed relief to me that today’s military who visit the community are much more respectful than their 1960s or 70s ancestors.

Ponder the clergy and military for a minute. Think about them in relation to abuse in other contexts. Think about Abu Ghraib. We have two rigidly formalised, doctrinal and hierarchical institutions installed in a cultural and geographic situation completely outside their norm. They harbour either an inferred or explicit authority over their charges. They are often physically different than the other. There are very few controls or checks on the exercise of power. Pretty much no accountability. Things start to slip. Some residential schools existed for decades. No cameras. No video. Imagine an US run Iraqi prison, or a Canadian commando in Somalia without cameras.* Or even a conventional, publicly accessible parish with a congregation of hundreds or thousands hiding decades of paedophilia by its ministers. Imagine 40, 50, 70 years without anything approaching accountable oversight, in a closed and cloistered institution like a residential school.

All the ingredients are there for unspeakable horror.


If even a whiff of evidence of questionable death is found in one location, it will have been worth it for justice alone. If not, it will have been worth it so that we may then be satisfied that this most evil of evils did not occur with the rest that went with the residential schools.

*To preempt some wingnut fuck derailing this post with some ‘you denigrate the brave troops’ shit, I’ll state the following: there has probably not been an army in history that has been given authority over another group that has not - to one degree or another, officially or unofficially - abused its charges and/or the local population. This is just what happens. Supporting the troops means recognising this, and then avoiding sticking ‘the troops’ situations where it can easily happen.

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