News broke last week that the federal government is consulting with Indigenous groups prior to declaring a national statutory holiday recognizing an ugly part of Canadian history – residential schools.
An article in the Canadian Encyclopedia describes residential schools as “government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture.” These schools stole children from their families, stripped them of their culture and taught them their indigenous heritage made them less than others. The policy of residential schools caused long-term problems for Indigenous peoples, with the last residential school closing in 1996.
This is indeed an ugly part of Canadian history, which should be recognized and not swept under the rug. However, a national holiday that only recognizes this part of Indigenous peoples past is shortsighted. The day should be used to celebrate indigenous culture as a whole. There is much more to this culture than this one, albeit horrible, part.
If Canada is truly working toward reconciliation, it must recognize both the good and the bad parts of its history. A day to recognize the damage of residential schools does signify goodwill, but it also pigeonholes Indigenous peoples into a very distinct group – victims. While we do not deny the harmful policies that existed in the past, we must help rebuild the image of Indigenous peoples and celebrate what the culture was and what it has evolved into.
Victimizing recognizes wrongdoing, but it doesn’t pave a way to move forward.