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OPINION: We can’t just ‘get over’ serious trauma

Gerry Chidiac


Lessons in Learning

As tensions have mounted in Canada in recent months over land claims and Indigenous rights, I have heard and read many variations of the phrase, “The Natives just need to get over it.”

I wonder, however, if the people who embrace this worldview really know what they are saying. It reflects complete ignorance regarding the history of Canada and the history of the world. The bottom line is that Canada is guilty of genocide, and telling our Indigenous people to “get over it” is coming dangerously close to outright genocide denial.

Throughout the last several thousand years, genocidal policies were standard operating procedure for powerful empires. The Romans, for example, literally wiped Carthage off the map. It wasn’t until the 20th century, however, that we began to question these policies, especially in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

In 1948, primarily through the efforts of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer and scholar who had lost many family members in the Holocaust, the United Nations passed the Genocide Convention. It states:

“In the present 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.

It is well known that the residential schools in Canada forcibly transferred children of the group to another group.

It is less well known that the Indian Act demonstrated clear intention to force assimilation of our Indigenous population.

In addition, the Canadian government not only knew that high percentages (24 per cent on average) of Indigenous children were dying in these schools in the early 20th century, it chose to ignore the advice of health inspector Dr. Peter Bryce to improve conditions.

In fact, in response to Bryce’s report, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott stated, “It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in these schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

In recent decades, it has also become well known that crimes of genocide leave deep wounds on individuals and communities, especially when they are inflicted on children. One does not “just get over” serious trauma. Trauma inflicted on a child also impacts their ability to parent. In other words, the trauma is intergenerational. We will be dealing with the impact of residential schools in Canada for many years to come.

Some will argue that these crimes against humanity have nothing to do with them, so why should they care. After all, they were not part of the residential school system.

I simply cannot embrace this point of view. My deep love for Canada means I must embrace my country’s history, the good and the bad. It also means I must do all that I can to make Canada better.

Very few countries have had the courage to do what Canada is doing. Our way forward however, is not always clear. That is why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed. As I study their 94 Calls to Action, I can see how they provide direction for our country as we attempt to heal our national psyche.

Things will not get better if we try to ignore our history. Human beings do not just “get over” abuse and trauma. And to deny these truths is to pour salt into the already deep wounds of genocide in Canada.

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