by Gilbert Oskaboose, Nov 1993 First Perspective
There is a lot of "unfinished business" in Indian Country. Garbage that we as a people have never really dealt with. Chief among them is the whole issue of those infamous residential schools and their impact on people.
We need to deal with horrible festering wound in the psyche of the nations. We need to ask and to answer a lot of questions – openly and honestly. We need to get beyond "workshops" that are a little more than "crying and bitching" sessions.
Human beings of any race generally learn their behaviours through observing theirs parents, peers and role models. Whatever happened to Indian children where the natural process was broken? What happened to Indian children who were taken away at a young age – four or five years- and raised in alien hostile environments, completely separated from their parents, peer groups, language, culture,role models, familiar surroundings....?
What happened to Indian boys and girls who were raised by childless nuns and priests?Were these children raised in a good healthy manner, ready to bring up the next generation – in an equally good and healthy manner?
How do such children get to learn the history of their own people when it was viewed through the biased account of another culture? How do essential human characteristics like self-respect and self-esteem come to school children who are painfully aware that their ancestors were regarded -by the dominant society- as little more than "red-skinned" savages, filthy lice infected, bead-coveted, canoe-toting, horse stealing, buffalo eating, root gathering, berry picking band of brigands holding up civilization in the New World.
What happened to the parents who were forced to stand by and watch their children being taken away from them? How did they rationalize their apathy? How did they justify nothing to stop the theft of their children? What happened to their relationships that normally exist between them and their children? What happened to relationships of brothers and sisters who were allowed hour long"visits' with each other – once a year?
When the residential schools were finished with their "education" thousands of children returned to hundreds of different villages, minus their language, ignorant of their cultures... lost between two different worlds. At the whistle stops to greet them were parents, grandparents and a motley assortment of "cousins" who managed to sober up long enough to ridicule them for becoming "little brown white people who couldn't talk "Indian" anymore". What do you think that mindless put down did for the relationships and their accusers?
This is unfinished business in Indian country. We need to settle these old accounts – one way or another- and get on with the business of life.
- Gilbert Oskaboose, journalist from the Serpent River First Nation. ON. d.2000