Indigenous People’s Week with Buffy Ste-Marie

I wanted to make a contribution to Indigenous People’s week, but given my background, it’s difficult to say anything on the topic without bringing down the ire of somebody-or-other. However, good old CBC solved my problem by presenting an interview with Buffy Ste-Marie that I really enjoyed. She has been a spokeswoman for First Nations people for sixty or more years, and has a lot to say that many people should hear. Believe it or not, many things she said were exactly in line with what I have always thought, and nobody’s going to argue with an iconic figure like her.

The main topic of conversation, of course, was the unmarked graves at the residential schools. The matter was bound to come up in the interview, and I was interested to see what her comment would be.

“I Always Knew They Were There”

She said this in a matter-of-fact way, mirroring my own feeling about this information. I have always known that many children died in the residential schools. Not because anybody told me. Figure it out. We didn’t need our recent experience with COVID to persuade us that schools are ideal breeding ground for disease. Children from widespread isolated communities would have far fewer antibodies because germs were spread very slowly in such a culture. Then consider the extreme stress they were placed under, and the effects of stress on the immune system. Add the complete lack of defense against smallpox and other European diseases. Plus the “regular” epidemics of TB, polio, etc., that the whole population was subject to.

So, if this information is so easily available and so powerful, why didn’t everybody know? The answer is that in some way, they did. But if I can refer to a quote from an etalk by Kate Cooper, “The power of willful ignorance cannot be overstated.” She happened to be talking about our cruelty to animals raised for food, but the concept remains; nobody wanted to know, so nobody knew.

Which leads us to Buffy Ste-Marie’s next comment:

“The Good News about the Bad News”

Since the bad news wasn’t news at all, the good point about this exercise is that a whole lot more people have now become aware of the situation. People can no longer remain willfully ignorant when undisputed reports appear on creditable news media on a weekly basis. Hopefully this upswing in publicity will produce some positive results.

And Now the Bad News

And here I depart from the opinions of Buffy Ste-Marie. She was too polite to remark (but I am not) on the callous indifference that has been revealed. (Setting aside for the moment the vast imperialistic egotism that assumed that stealing children’s chance for a normal family upbringing was going to be good for them.) What we are learning is the immense disregard shown by the authorities for the victims of the system. Okay, after all this time there were bound to be some unmarked graves and some incomplete records. But now we are discovering the huge number of omissions, which we can only assume was driven by a complete lack of caring about the feelings of fellow human beings.

That Was Then; This is Now

And worst of all, because it affects the present population and is being perpetrated by present-day authorities, is the reluctance to release what records they do have. There can be no excuse for this except corporate butt-covering and liability control. The unique structure of the Roman Catholic church makes local parishioners responsible for all local debts and liabilities, leaving the Head Office in Rome (You know, the one with the museum piled high with the riches of several hundred years of plunder) legally unencumbered. And higher church officials are doing their best to keep it that way.

The Bottom Line

We live in the Information Age. Present generations consider information to be all important. Likewise, the power brokers consider control of information to be paramount.

The best we can do in our day and age for the victims of the residential schools, past and present, is give them all the information we can dig up. And I don’t just mean that in the metaphoric sense. An apology would be important, but as Buffy Ste-Marie says, the apologies are only a beginning. A couple of truckloads of records would be a more tangible atonement.

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