Revenge not the answer to scourge of residential schools

Published June 1, 2000

BOARDING SCHOOLS have been the scourge of our people – and it appears the effects will linger for some time yet.

Boarding schools attracted pedophiles, sadists, and other misfits who preyed on helpless Indian children.

The boarding schools left us with a legacy of pain and family dysfunction. To think that things would return to normal with the schools’ closure is naive in the extreme.

Today, the churches and government are facing a plethora of lawsuits – so many that some Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Church dioceses are starting to fear for their very survival. Bankruptcy is seen as a serious option.

This is an interesting turn of events. How do you sell off church property? What value do you place on a cathedral and who will buy it? The churches will be hard-pressed to come up with the damages assessed against them.

And how deep will this imbroglio go? The federal government has argued Gordon’s First Nation is a party to the abuse that occurred at that boarding school. This completely cynical act by the government is designed to force the First Nations to apply the brakes to the process out of fear they will be dragged into paying for cash settlements.

Two tragedies are unfolding here.

First, this serious social problem is before the courts and in the hands of lawyers. The victims are case numbers and files in some lawyers’ offices.

We are becoming an increasingly litigious society and anyone with a grievance can take it to court. This manner of hiring someone to do your fighting for you takes the victim out of the loop as points of law are debated and legal maneuvering takes place. The victim is once again a helpless spectator.

An important part of the healing journey is to take possession of your life. Many of our people have not had control over their own lives and have lived their lives on welfare, in jail or in other social services programs that treat us like cattle.

Legal battles are long and expensive. All the victim can do is watch and ask the lawyer what’s happening. The other tragedy is that in North America, money is used as the criteria for success. It’s used to keep score. A person has lots of money, they are “rich” and therefore must be happy.

We live within a materialistic society in which money is seen as the answer to all problems. As Mae West said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor – and rich is better.”

Take a person who has spent their life in pain and poverty, watching the good life on television, and you have a person who wants a piece of it. A settlement of $100,000 looks like an enormous amount for a person on welfare, but if you think about it, the average Canadian could earn that in two or three years.

After the lawyers’ fees are subtracted, the amount shrinks alarmingly.

But to many of our people it represents their ticket out of poverty and the start of a new life. Too often, this is the start of another set of problems.

Sudden wealth has its own problems. Family wants a piece of it. If the person has a drug or alcohol problem, that takes over.

Very little is being done to help our people come to terms with the loss of their youth, their innocence and a lifetime of pain. Money alone can’t do it.

There must be a more serious attempt to work with our people and help them come to terms with their past. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation is one national institution focusing on this problem. Many of the proposals it is entertaining are directed toward the effects of the boarding school experience.

Otherwise, there is very little meaningful assistance out there.

This is our tragedy of the 20th century. Revenge might feel good, but it isn’t the real answer. Doug Cuthand is a Plains Cree Anglican living in Saskatoon. This article first appeared in the Regina Leader-Post.


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