There has been, of course, a lot of noise and criticism of the Harper government’s shameful betrayal of Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto accord, citing preference for a “made in Canada” solution. Less attention has been given, however, to another “K” accord that represents a possibly even more shameful made-in-Canada betrayal. From the day Stephen Harper’s government was elected with a mere 36.3% of the vote, despite some feeble public relations exercises to the contrary, the Kelowna Accord never had a chance.
Signed by Paul Martin in what he didn’t realize was the twilight of his government’s life, the Kelowna Accord represented a historic agreement between the Government of Canada and Aboriginal peoples that sought to “improve the education, employment, and living conditions” for Canada’s natives. Two Conservative budgets and a private member’s bill vote later, the agreement is effectively dead. Harper apparently didn’t consider it a priority, and we know how he feels about priorities.
Adding to the disgrace (regular readers will note that “disgrace” and “shameful” are not words I use often or take lightly) this week was Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, who is refusing to apologize for native residential schools, again despite a written commitment from the previous government.
Some quick background. Starting in 1874, native children were forcibly removed from their homes by the RCMP and taken to these schools. They were not allowed to speak their own language, even amongst each other. They didn’t see their parents for months. Many were physically and sexually abused. A 1909 report found that the mortality rate at residential schools in Western Canada was 35%-60% within five years. The explicitly stated goal of these schools was the assimilation of native society into European culture. And the last school did not close until 1996.
I happened to visit the site of a former residential school this past weekend. Keeping the above in mind as we drove down the tree-lined driveway towards a grandly intimidating building at its termination was, shall we say, chilling. Keeping the above in mind while listening to Jim Prentice explain that Canada has nothing to apologize for because “the underlying objective [of residential schools] had been to try and provide an education to aboriginal children,” was, quite literally, infuriating.
Let’s not mince words. Either Prentice is shockingly ignorant of history or he is defending what were racist policies designed to eradicate Canada’s first nations through forced assimilation. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence pointing towards ignorance.
An apology would be only a modest first step in the right direction, and this government is walking the other way.