I could hardly bear to listen to the recording of the children sobbing for their parents in one of the detention camps on the Southern U.S. border.
And the footage of the Guatemalan mother weeping as she embraced her 7-year-old son who was returned to her outside a courtroom after they were forcibly separated for a month was just as heart breaking. A scene from the film Indian Horse, based on the late Richard Wagamese’s novel. The pain of President Trump’s zero tolerance for brown people who want to come to the United States is palpable not just to the people directly involved but to anyone who witnesses it or simply watches it through a TV screen or social media.
It is also horrifying because history has shown us over and over again what fate befalls people who have been dehumanized and demonized because of their race and culture.
It certainly happened here in Canada.
But there were no cameras to record their fury and sobs when over decades 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children were rounded up, forcibly taken from their parents and carted off to residential schools.
There was no public outcry even though the children spent years away from their parents and often lost touch with them altogether. There were no investigations when children died at residential schools.
In the 1960s some provincial governments decided the best way to deal with the rising costs of their Indigenous populations was to put their children up for adoption. Recent research indicates upwards of 20,000 kids were removed from their homes, mostly in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and adopted by non-Indigenous families thousands of miles way.
The late Richard Wagamese painstakingly detailed the trauma of residential schools for parents and children in his novel Indian Horse . A movie based on his book was released earlier this year; it is a bitter but bracing slice of Canadiana and often difficult to watch. When I saw it in Calgary there were lots of Indigenous people in the audience and they applauded vigorously when the lights came up.
But the appalling treatment of Canada’s Indigenous children is not just a matter of history.
There are parallels to what is happening on the U.S. border and the plight of many Indigenous children in Canada today, says Cindy Blackstock , executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and a professor of social work at McGill University
“First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples know the trauma of unnecessary removals of children away from their parents by the State. Every separation is traumatic and that trauma deepens as time away increases often resulting in life long and multi-generational harms,” she wrote in an email.
Canadian governments have apologized and compensated victims for the racism and cultural genocide perpetrated on them through residential schools and the 1960s adoption scoop.
But Blackstock warns against comforting ourselves with the idea that since past harms have been recognized Indigenous children aren’t being put in harm’s way today.
In 2016 a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the Canadian government was discriminating against Indigenous children because on-reserve communities are not afforded the same level of resources for their families as other communities.
As a consequence, more Indigenous children are likely to end up separated from their families in foster care, group homes, or detention facilities than non-Indigenous children.
In Manitoba, for example, 10,000 of the 11,000 children in care are Indigenous. In Alberta about 70 per cent of children in foster care are Indigenous.Blackstock says that the federal government spends 22 to 34 per cent less money per Indigenous child than is spent by provincial government child welfare agencies to […]
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