Without Canada, I wouldn’t be alive. Nor would my father, my brother, my sister, or nine of my cousins. When my grandmother fled Poland in my 30s, and later married my grandfather, a survivor of the Gulag, they built a prosperous life in Montreal. They found opportunities for themselves and their children in North America in the 1950s and 1960s that starkly contrasted Europe they fled in the 1930s and 1940s, which was designed for them to cease to exist.
I’m not sure if my grandparents ever considered the fact that the land that not only saved their lives, but allowed them to thrive, came with a country that was built on the same unnecessary and appalling loss of life that they managed to avoid themselves.
Today is National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada, for the first time an official national holiday. I know I have to be better, which is why I’ve ordered Out of the Depths, Isabelle Knockwood’s book on the subject. One passage hit me from the excerpt, made available online, pretty intensely:
I testified before the TRC to bring awareness to the fact that the testimony given to the TRC by the survivors of the Indian residential schools in Canada was not a sworn oath. The risk is that historians will find ways to discredit the oral evidence and, like the holocaust of the Jews by Hitler’s regime, will be able to say that the “residential schools did not happen….
As children, the residential school students were warrior children — we stood on the front line alone, unprotected and unarmed trying to defend our culture, identity and heritage. As adults we brought a lawsuit against the two most powerful organizations in the world, the federal government and the churches. We empowered ourselves when we broke the code of silence of abuse.
This is the kind of language of breaking through silence was what I was raised with in Hebrew School for 8 years. When it came to other persecuted groups, groups that were marginalized, and often slaughtered the foundations of the land that had helped us survive, the religious schools I was raised in tended to turn silent.
Here is another excellent resource from historian Daniel N. Paul. This kind of quote provides a more blatant example of the kind of thinking common among 20th Century white Canadians, by civil servant and poet Duncan Campbell Scott:
I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”
If you have some funds to give, I’d highly recommend donating.