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Northern wildflower: religion, residential schools, Canada and confusion

Churches are burning. Statues and statutes are coming down. Sounds like the end of the world to some.
Kuper Island Residential School, where 161 unmarked graves were discovered last week, photographed in the 1920s. “The truth of what happened behind closed doors in residential schools can no longer be hidden behind crumbling walls and iron gates of Gothic-looking castles and temples,” columnist Catherine Lafferty writes. Photo courtesy of B.C. Archives photo

Churches are burning. Statues and statutes are coming down. Sounds like the end of the world to some.

The truth of what happened behind closed doors in residential schools can no longer be hidden behind crumbling walls and iron gates of Gothic-looking castles and temples. The truth of what happened is coming to light with the uncovering of thousands of unmarked graves of children and the cancelling of Canada day is not going to be the last of it.

Unless you have been living under a rock, most people now know about what the church did to Indigenous children for over a century and this has caused a demand for an apology, a demand for justice. But so far there has been no accountability by the leader of the catholic church, the Pope.

If there wasn’t already confusion around religion before, there certainly is now. What I do know from scripture is that Jesus would not have allowed for mass genocide in the name of God. Some believe that Jesus was a medicine man. That he was a healer who had a message to spread far and wide. Indigenous Nations too had healers, medicine people who also shared their message who still do today.

Many Indigenous peoples who survived residential school still believe in organized religion and that is their right. My grandmother always carried a rosary with her, but she also always carried a piece of rat root medicine in her purse too. She had mixed beliefs because she was raised in two worlds having been a residential school survivor and also being raised on the land.

As an intergenerational survivor of residential schools, I am confused about my beliefs, too. I have trouble praying. I do however give thanks to both Creator and God as one and the same and I ask for my loved ones passed on the other side to be with me when I’m in need. But the bottom line is that the Catholic church allowed for the genocide of children to happen and the Canadian government along with the RCMP permitted it. They did not only sit back and watch it happen, they also assisted in enforcing mandatory attendance in these schools by criminalizing opposition.

We see a polarization now within those institutions that helped to create this system of control. Municipalities, territorial and provincial governments, the federal government, churches and RCMP are all divided into their own sectors but at one point they were connected and stood behind the colonial assimilation of Indigenous peoples through residential schools and other oppressive regimes that fall under the Indian Act.

Like these institutions, people too are becoming divided. We see this now during the pandemic where people are either pro-mask or anti-mask, pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine. We are a country divided through our opinions and it stems from the root of distrust. Can we trust anything anymore? Can we trust the news? Can we put our faith in the church? Can we trust the Canadian government?

My good friend Clinton Kuzio, a Cree Instructor at the University of Victoria reminds me that Canada is not a country but a colony of Britain.

“Our laws must seek royal ascent before they can be laws. The queen is still on our money.”

King George the III, the queen’s great grandfather, in 1763 proclaimed that the British ruled Canada in the name of having to protect Indigenous peoples as found in the Royal Proclamation. Since then Britain has implemented their rules on paper through laws such as the Indian Act. But what a lot of people don’t realize though is that royalty was enshrined in Catholicism in the very beginning of the formation of what we know as Canada through the inextricable link of the doctrine of discovery.

The doctrine is a decree that basically said whoever was not Catholic or Christian was not human which gave explorers the false ideal that Indigenous lands could be conquered. So when explorers arrived in North America, they saw that Indigenous peoples were not believers in organized religion but had different beliefs in who or what the Creator was and with that explorers starting staking claims telling the rest of the world that North America was void of human life. That doctrine is still in place today and can be rescinded by the powers that be but if that were to happen that would mean that Indigenous peoples would be able to claim their land back and taking away the privileges of the privileged is something that would not happen easily. They would fight tooth and nail to keep it.

Kuzio tells me his perspective about the country changed once he learned Canada’s history and more importantly once he learned who he was in relation to it as an Indigenous person. He likens Canada to that one relative that “everyone knows is horrible, but you still feel like you need their approval.”

That disapproving relative might be furious over the statues that have been beheaded and the burning of churches, but lets not let us get sidetracked on what really matters. Do we really need our estranged great uncle on our father’s side who know one likes to speak of at the dinner table give us five dollars in a card every year for our birthday anymore? Similarly, five bucks on Treaty Day can’t go very far anymore and neither can the institutions that committed mass genocide.

Maybe one day there will be a turning point towards a common ground one day in this country but until there is an understanding by all so called Canadians of the insurmountable atrocities that Indigenous peoples went through and continue to go through today there will be an ongoing uprising for change.