It’s a muted Canada day this year because of the discovery of dead children at residential schools for natives.

The residential schools were boarding schools for native children. The children were taken from their parents by force (some parents were killed for resisting). Once there, they were treated badly, not allowed to speak their native language, and inculcated in Christianity, which is why they were run by the Catholic Church.

The reasoning was that the only way to “civilize” the natives was to make them Christians, and to remove them from their culture.

So far, over a thousand children have been found in unmarked graves this year. More will be found. The BBC estimates 2,000 dead, but I’m betting it is more.

The children at these schools were abused, they were not treated with love, and when they returned to the reservations, many of them acted as adults who were abused children not treated with love; reservations have huge amounts of alcoholism, drug use, and abuse. This trauma, combined with the other generational trauma natives endured, plus the systematic mistreatment of natives on reservations, has lead to reservations being third-world enclaves in a first-world nation, and anti-native racism is rampant in Canada — especially in rural areas.

This has lead to a lot of canceling, some of it unquestionably justified, some of it less so.

The Atlantic Magazine wrote a good defense of John A. MacDonald (even if it was written by Frum), Canada’s first Prime Minister, for example: He supported residential schools, but in his time they were voluntary and his policies, for the time, were relatively enlightened towards the natives — including some attempts to feed them during the famine caused by the US genocide of the bison herds.

The key paragraph is:

This is not a “reckoning with history.” It’s a refusal to reckon with the actual possibilities open to the people of the past. This is not “moral responsibility.” It’s a flight from responsibility into rituals of self-purification through denunciation and destruction. It is easier to perform outrage than to improve outcomes in education, addiction, and economic development.

The real problem here is that modern day natives live in slums and are treated terribly. The simple fact of the matter is that a real attempt was made to genocide their cultures (that’s what compulsory residential schools were part of) and that putting them in reservations and treating even the adults like children (that was pretty much their legal status), then failing to care for them, makes Canada culpable for the state they are in.

There is no getting around this easily. What was done cannot be undone, but Canada could do what it can to make it right, and the simplest way to start would be with money. There are a million “status” Indians in Canada, and just giving them a boatload of cash is something Canada can afford to do, and should do. (We spend about $200 billion on various business subsidies, including for oil and gas; we can find the money.)

On their side, the natives need to understand that countries rarely self-dismember, and that turnaround (taking away the rights of non-natives) is a no-go, and would be stupid and self-defeating. Canada would have to give natives a fair bit of land, but that land would not be fully sovereign; they would not be separate countries. Something like provincial powers or even provincial status would be appropriate, but it must be done in a way that respects democratic and civil rights. If Indians want settlers off their returned land (settlers who have sometimes been there for over a 100 years), those people will need to be compensated, and it’s reasonable for the Canadian government to bear those costs.

The price tag for all of this will be in the hundreds of billions. Canada can afford it, and it is the right thing to do, but it must also come with genuine reconciliation over time.

In the meantime, Canada is right to be ashamed, and the Pope needs to get off his ass and apologize as well — because the Catholic Church are who perpetrated the actual administration and the actual, day-to-day abuse. (This reminds me of the dead bodies found buried secretly near Irish Catholic-run orphanages.)

Like every other state in the Americas, Canada is a settler state. We were built on conquest and genocide. I have little patience for constant self-whipping over the fact; it is what is, and most people still alive today had nothing to do with it.

But we are responsible for our behaviour today, which is still very bad, and we are responsible for making right what can be made right — things that were done by those who came before us, those who created and maintained this country on land stolen from the natives, while they continued to hurt those natives, pretending instead that they were caring for them.

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