Tag Archives: addictions

Paul Martin accuses residential schools of ‘cultural genocide’

‘Call a spade a spade,’ former prime minister says

Residential schools engaged in “cultural genocide,” former prime minister Paul Martin said Friday at the hearings of the federal Truth And Reconciliation Commission, adding that aboriginal Canadians must now be offered the best educational system.

“Let us understand that what happened at the residential schools was the use of education for cultural genocide, and that the fact of the matter is — yes it was. Call a spade a spade,” Martin said to cheers from the audience at the Montreal hearings.

“And what that really means is that we’ve got to offer aboriginal Canadians, without any shadow of a doubt, the best education system that is possible to have.”

The residential school system existed from the 1870s until the 1990s and saw about 150,000 native youth taken from their families and sent to church-run schools under a deliberate policy of “civilizing” First Nations.

Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide or died fleeing their schools. Mortality rates reached 50 per cent at some schools.

In the 1990s, thousands of victims sued the Canadian government as well as churches that ran the schools. The $1.9-billion settlement of that suit in 2007 prompted an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the creation of the commission.

But the government has clashed with the commission and recently had to be ordered by an Ontario court to find and turn over documents from Library and Archives Canada.

“Every document is relevant,” Martin said. “We have hid this for 50 years. It’s existed for 150. Surely to God, Canadians are entitled … aboriginal Canadians and non-aboriginal Canadians, to know the truth. And so let the documents be released.”

Romeo Saganash has also testified of this time in residential schools

After the panel, Saganash took to the main stage at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel and officially gave his statement to the TRC about his time at the La Tuque residential school in the late 1970s.

He tearfully spoke about his brother Johnny who died under mysterious circumstances when he was just 6 years old. Johnny was buried in an unmarked grave near the residential school in Moose Factory, Ont. There was no explanation given to his parents, no death certificate, no physical record that the little Cree boy had ever existed under the care of the federal government.

It took 40 years for the Saganash family to find Johnny’s grave and they did so not with the help of authorities but rather through the work of Saganash’s journalist sister Emma. When his mother finally saw footage of the burial site, Saganash said she wept like he had never seen her weep before.

The NDP MP has also struggled with the legacy of pain from his stolen childhood. The struggle caused Saganash to seek treatment for his alcoholism last December after he was kicked off an Air Canada flight for being heavily intoxicated.

But Saganash spent little time focusing on the past, choosing rather to divert the attention to the private members bill he tabled before the House of Commons in January. The bill would force the federal government to ensure all its laws are consistent with the UN’s declaration of indigenous rights — a document the Cree politician helped draft before being elected to public office.

He concluded his emotional address on a hopeful note, quoting a passage from a speech South African leader Nelson Mandela gave after his 27-year stint as a political prisoner.

“It was during those long and lonely years that the hunger for freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people — white and black. I knew, as I knew anything, that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. For all have been robbed of their humanity.

The Wound Inside

Lukas makes his rounds as a caseworker, delivering meds, gifts and good cheer to participants while exposing the dark history behind the addiction issues that plague Winnipeg’s Aboriginal homeless population. This short film is a chapter from Here At Home, a web documentary about mental health and homelessness that takes us inside the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s At Home pilot project.

Rock Bottom to Recovery

Since I was just mentioning Hope Mission, I would be remiss not to embed and talk about this amazing video that Hope Mission did about their Breakout Recovery program in Edmonton.  According to Hope Mission’s website;

The Breakout Recovery Community is a year-long, 12 step addiction recovery program which operates out of the Herb Jamieson Centre. The goal of the program is to provide men with supportive community, structure and accountability to help them make positive changes in their lives.

Men are admitted to the program on a continual basis and are provided with counselling, access to recreation and transitional housing.

In 2008/09 over 50 men celebrated at least one year in the program and in 2009/10 that number climbed to 80.

I have watched the video about 10 times and I love it.  Make sure you watch it, link to it, and tweet about it.  It’s that good and it’s a message of hope for those that need it.

Canada’s indifference to Aboriginal addictions

From Dr. Gabor Mate,

There is a disproportionately high ratio of native Canadians among my Downtown Eastside patients, as well as in Canada’s drug-using population and prisons. And they suffer disproportionately. Last week, a study showed that the HIV rate among Vancouver’s aboriginal drug users is twice that of non-natives. The report came just a day after the tragic incident in which two toddlers froze to death on a Saskatchewan reserve. Their father, in an inebriated stupor, had carried them into a snowstorm.

The devastation wreaked by addiction among our first nations peoples is a national scandal — or it would be, were it to strike virtually any other segment of our population. Our country is strangely indifferent to its depredations among this marginalized group. We seem content to accept the high death toll that afflicts our native citizens, the low life expectancy, the high incarceration rate and the grinding poverty that both gives rise to substance abuse and results from it. We seem to comfort ourselves with the belief that the endemic drug addiction and alcoholism are unfortunate realities for which we, as a society, bear no responsibility. From both scientific and historical perspectives, such a view is distorted and self-serving.

Addicts are made, not born, and the most common precursors are early childhood privation, neglect and abuse. For several generations, Canada’s native children have been far more likely to suffer grinding penury, abuse and childhood substance addictions than non-natives. But contrary to what is sometimes asserted, such facts say nothing about the “innate” nature of Canada’s native peoples, either cultural or genetic. Abuse of young children among tribal peoples living in their natural habitats is virtually non-existent, and so it was with North American natives before European colonization. On the contrary — in many ways, their parenting practices were more enlightened than those current in our civilization.

And tobacco and other potentially addictive substances were available prior to the European settlement of this continent — even alcohol, in what is now Mexico and the American Southwest. Yet there is no mention by anthropologists or historians of anything that could be reasonably called addiction. As Bruce Alexander, professor emeritus of psychology at Simon Fraser University, points out, “where alcohol was readily available, it was used moderately, often ceremonially rather than addictively.”

The precursor to addiction is dislocation, according to Dr. Alexander. Dislocation is the loss of psychological, social and economic integration into family and culture — a sense of exclusion, isolation and powerlessness. “Only chronically and severely dislocated people are vulnerable to addiction,” he has written. Thus, today’s dismal statistics arise from the relationship between aboriginal people and the dominant culture.

With the mass migration of Europeans to North America and the economic transformation of the continent came also the loss of freedom of mobility for native peoples, the inexorable and still ongoing despoliation and destruction of their habitats and traditional livelihoods, the invalidation of their spiritual ways and persistent discrimination. Within living memory, native children were seized from their homes, alienated from their families and incarcerated in “civilizing” institutions where their lot was one of cultural suppression, emotional and physical maltreatment and, all too frequently, sexual abuse.

The overall pattern continues to be dispossession, denial of historical rights and patronizing control. Canadian society, with our self-appointed “mission” to improve the health, education and well-being of Afghans, has not even come close to securing those same essentials for our first nations citizens. The living situations, health conditions and social deprivation of many aboriginal Canadians are abysmal even by Third World standards. Under such circumstances, among tormented, dislocated and, most fundamentally, disempowered people, pain and suffering are transmitted from one traumatized generation to the next.