I appreciated the letter to the editor of Jan. 8 re: “Learn from our history”, written in the Penticton Herald by Clay Stacey of Kelowna.
He wrote, “For too long the aboriginal community has been stereotyped by negative stories carried in newspapers, TV and social media. The stories often focus on protests, confrontations,
alcohol and drug abuse, financial scandals, fires, gun violence, murders, thefts, assaults and and missing persons on First Nations’ reserves (plus)...poor drinking water, dilapidated housing, terrible roads, lack of educational opportunities, truancy, child runaways, etc.”
Stacey also said, “To improve the relationship between aboriginal people and non-natives, attitudes need to change,” And he refers to comments made by Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Bellegarde was responding to the final report and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) last June, and he called on people “...to make room in your hearts and minds and spirits. Rid yourself of those racial stereotypes of Indians and indigenous people being dumb and lazy and drunk on welfare. Rid yourself of those things, so new things can come in.”
I looked up Bellegarde on the internet for his ideas as to what would be a good direction to go. He saw “reconciliation” as being especially important, and said, “I believe reconciliation is about closing the gap - the gap in understanding between First Nations and Canadians, and the gap in the quality of life between us.”
He believes that “closing the gap in understanding starts with confronting the purpose of residential schools, which was nothing less than the eradication of First Nations identity from Canada. The intent was to kill our cultures and our languages (said Bellegarde). Once you lose those, you lose everything - your pride, self-image and self-worth. First Nations identities are central to Canada’s identity. We must support and promote indigenous languages and cultures in the school system and in Canadian society as a proud part of our heritage.”
He notes that the residential school experience is a reminder of our need to support First Nations in their control of their education. As he writes, “No parent in their right mind would ever treat their children the way First Nations children were treated in residential schools - beaten for speaking their languages, made to feel ashamed and inferior, victims of experiments and assaults.” And he adds that “Canadians need education about...the promises we made to one another to share and live together in mutual respect and peaceful co-existence.”
But to open our minds to this requires removing any prejudices and misconceptions we may harbour, and work to bring about positive change in our relationship with our indigenous neighbours. I believe it will create a healthier community in which to live.
May it be so for us!
Harvie Barker is a retired United Church minister who resides in Penticton.