Calgary Herald





Cultural Genocide

A Calgary lawyer makes the case

Vaughn Marshall

For the Calgary Herald

Page A11

Monday, March 22, 2004

In last Wednesday's editorial, the Calgary Herald questioned the wisdom of the federal government's not foreclosing former students of Canada's Indian residential schools who choose to resolve their residential school abuse claims in the government's alternative dispute resolution program from later pursuing court cases for possible redress for language and culture loss.

The ADR program will provide some compensation for sexual and serious physical abuse, but won't redress damage caused by destruction of the language and culture of aboriginals, the failure to provide them a useful education promised by the treaties, or the systemic neglect aboriginals endured throughout the century-long residential school system. This failure to redress the fundamental evil of the system which attacked their very being, harmed generations of aboriginals, crippling their communities and causing economic loss to all, is not acceptable to them. Aboriginals should be compensated for these losses in the ADR program and not have to take their claims to court which, in Alberta , will add years of further delay.

Until the mid-1970s, every aboriginal child was forced to attend a residential school for up to 10 years. Aboriginal children lived in these institutions for 10 months a year, with little contact with their families.

For as long as they were confined in these "schools", aboriginal children were held captive in the poisonous atmosphere of these government-imposed racist institutions of assimilation foisted on them for the specific purpose of driving the "Indian" out of every one of them, where their beliefs, language and culture were systematically attacked, vilified and demonized daily.

The system was deliberately aimed at children, the most vulnerable and least powerful of the most underprivileged and marginalized group in Canada, with the full knowledge that aboriginal children would be the most susceptible victims of the racist agenda of the government and churches to eradicate aboriginal language, culture and spirituality from the face of Canada.

The prohibition against children speaking their mother tongue was generally destructive to their sense of identity and particularly damaging for aboriginal people whose oral cultures use language as the medium to create, sustain and transmit their world view from generation to generation.

Removing the children from their families, preventing them from speaking their language and denying them occasions to express their culture through language and associated rituals was a powerful attack on the personal, cultural and spiritual identity of all aboriginal people.

Aboriginal children in residential schools suffered an especially damaging form of abuse. Denied their language and culture and isolated from their families, they were deprived of emotional and other support that could have assisted them in trying to cope in these institutions.

The damaging effect of the suppression of language and culture multiplied with each generation and the loss that ensued typically led to psychological disorientation and spiritual crises among aboriginal people throughout their lives.

Many were never able to regain their bearings in life and were left unable to assume responsible positions as mothers, fathers and community members.

On March 13, 2000 , the Law Commission of Canada recommended that compensation for the destruction of language and culture and the deprivation of an adequate education was justified and should be considered in any program to redress wrongs from residential schools.

To the commission, how a court might handle these claims was beside the point because the critical consideration was a program to compensate the full range of harms that occurred in these institutions.

Courts already recognize emotional and psychological harm as compensable anyway and their confinement in a residential school for up to 10 years obviously caused aboriginal children such damage.

Joel Spring , New School University , New York , and George Spindler, Stanford University , two of the world's leading scholars in the role of culture in education and the deculturalization of dominated peoples, both believe that loss of language and culture should be compensated in the ADR program.

The failure to remedy the destructive impact of this century-long assault on the very essence of aboriginal Canadians will render the ADR program unjust and cost Canadian taxpayers more in the long run.

To be acceptable to Canada 's aboriginals, the ADR program must include redress for these grave historical wrongs.

Vaughn Marshall is a Calgary lawyer.

His firm represents about 600 alleged abuse victims.


Online Extras

Vaughn Marshall examines the issue in greater detail. Follow this link for the complete article posted on the Herald's website.

(c) The Calgary Herald 2004