sinite parvulos venire ad me
Suffer the little children to come unto me…—Matthew 19:14
The news is disturbing: from the 19th century until the 1970s, some 150,000 First Nations children, or even more, were compelled to remain within government-backed Christian schools. The term, “First Nations” refers to the indigenous peoples of Canada other than those belonging to the Inuit and Metis, also considered as Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Among these communities operated these educational institutions that were also called “indigenous residential schools.”
“Compel” is the word I used but documents attested to how children belonging to several Indian communities were forcibly taken from their mothers and families to be placed in schools funded by the government.
All in the name of Christianization and all with the aim of removing any trace of the “native” in them. The children’s languages were banned and were not allowed to be spoken in the schools and in the campus. There were before-and-after photographs of boys with long hair wearing their indigenous clothing only to be presented in another frame “Westernized,” altered, different. Culturally integrated.
Coming from ethnolinguistic communities with their own respective rites of passage, these young boys and girls were once more subjected to another transition, this time more radical, forced and violent. All in the name of a new religion. All in the name of a dominating ideology.
All in the name of a New God.
Where, in some societies, this New God was taught as merciful, for these children of othered societies, the New God would be harsh, punitive. The real Almighty.
An angry god with brutal acolytes and priests and priestesses would be behind the banishment of cultures. This was once more the Crusades, of shrine maidens and knights marching into a colder Damascus, in the land of heathens, all destined by Fate marked by a light, no less evil than its belief that there is only one true God and one true Religion.
Ethnocentrism had never had a shining example than what happened in these places in North America.
That we are not aware of these cultural genocides particular to Canada is exemplary of how wide and far-ranging is colonization not only in underdeveloping countries but in a nation that prides itself in the splendor of ethnicities.
Dramatic depictions of this hideous past in Canadian history are captured in paintings. There is one circulating online and it is a painting by Kent Monkman. It carries the title, The Scream. Where the more famous “Scream” by Munch is about angst of deeper intellectual and moral provenance, this other “Scream” showing nuns and priest aided by the members of Royal Canadian Mounted Police is of anger and anguish urged from the guts. Mothers helpless before the might of government could only scream and shriek and cry as their children are dragged, never to come back again.
Or if they did come back, they were not the same children born of their own beliefs and myths, but citizens of the new order, plastered with a new culture they did not necessarily embrace but forced to practice. Made in the image and likeness of a pure Christian God that would not tolerate any other ceremonials.
The government program was called “aggressive assimilation” supported by a religion that believed, as in this history, no less in aggression. That assimilation caused thousand deaths, thousand more brutalities, including rape.
But nothing illustrates what happened years back in what was recently reported. Some 200 or more remains of children have been found buried on the site of one of these larger indigenous residential schools.
A leader of one of the communities belonging to the First Nation was said to have confirmed this horrible discovery. Not Art this time and not politics but science, which discovered the crime by means of a ground-penetrating radar. More bodies are expected to be found.
It is not as if this is the first time the truths about the deaths of children forcibly assimilated are narrated. In the past, however, there were no hard proofs; there were talks of children missing, of undocumented disappearances.
The fact: There were more than a hundred residential schools housing these children and most of them were managed by the Catholic Church.
The current affair: Back in our own Catholic yard, the celebration of Christianization and colonization continues. The year is festive enough. The nation has arranged events where they could affix the “500” to anything from poetry competition to music concourses, the numerals assuming a talismanic impact. Historians are part of the commemoration and the crime while I remain outside, my sarcasm terrific, intact yet marginalized. But I refuse to honor my rage by imbuing irony in this national memory. Let me offer a prayer though to Canada for the sad deaths of those children and condolences to the demise of their our own cultures, beliefs and languages. We, after all, share in the heritage of this aggressive assimilation.