The Emptiness of a Limited Apology

How would you feel if some invaders killed your grandparents, stole their farm and the land of the entire community, stuck your parents and the rest of the surviving community on a remote patch, forbade their culture, and then forced the children to school in the culture and language of the invader, and finally decades later the invader says sorry about just the coerced schooling?

The Canadian government has apologized to the Original Peoples who remain de facto occupied and colonized.1 The government apologized for the incarceration of indigenous youths within the colonialist education system. Canadian churches ran the euphemistically titled residential schools that sought to “civilize” the children by imposing colonial language and colonial religion while forbidding indigenous languages, religion, and culture.2 Some go further in their denouncement, such as the controversial ex-United Church minister Kevin Annett who claimed in his self-promoting documentary Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canada’s Genocide that there was a genocide of 50,000 children within the residential schools. Arnett, at least, deserves some credit for pushing the issue of a residential school genocide to the public forefront; there is a truth and reconciliation commission now investigating this dark Canadian history.

Of course an apology is in order, and it is long overdue. But what exactly does an apology mean? What about reparations? Is waging a war on Afghanis of higher priority than addressing the state’s crimes to citizens it calls its own?

What about all the other crimes the Canadian state is responsible for? What about the genocide?3 What about the broken treaties?4

What about the denial of justice?

Canada refuses neutral jurisdiction to adjudicate grievances between Original Peoples and the state. What about the refusal of the government to recognize indigenous rights?5

I have followed the plight of the rightful owners of the land6, and the assault on the Original Peoples is not a creature of the past. It is ongoing. Just to portray a sampling:

  • The corporate exploitation of resources on traditional indigenous territory.7
  • The undermining of traditional indigenous self-governance.8
  • The destruction of the environment.9
  • The struggle of the Haida to protect title and the land.10
  • The non-recognition of the Lubicon Lake First Nation and the theft of their forests and oil.11
  • Dealing with toxic legacies.12
  • The struggle of the Mi’kmaq for treaty guaranteed fishing rights.13
  • The usurping indigenous title for ski resorts.14
  • Basing an Olympics on stolen land.15
  • The opposition to corporations threatening wild salmon stocks.16

With all the longstanding and ongoing crimes against the Original Peoples, what really does an apology, which just grazes the tip of the iceberg of colonialization, really mean?

  1. Canada apologizes for trying to ‘kill the Indian in the child,’” Cape Breton Post, 12 June 2008. []
  2. Kim Petersen, “Behind Closed Doors: Tales from Canada’s Hidden Holocaust,” Dissident Voice, 24 September 2007. []
  3. The Law Society of Upper Canada admitted to attorney Bruce Clark: “The ‘genocide’ of which Mr. Clark speaks is real, and has very nearly succeeded in destroying the Native Canadian community that flourished here when European settlers arrived…We are sympathetic, moreover, to Mr. Clark’s assertion that the courts have been unwilling to listen to his argument.” “Gustafsen Lake-Leave to Appeal,” Solidarity with Six Nations, 18 September 1997. []
  4. Hillary Bain Lindsay, “Home On Native Land,” The Dominion, 19 April 2006. []
  5. Kim Petersen, “UN-Justice in Canada,” The Dominion, 29 September 2006. []
  6. If land, indeed, should be owned. Traditionally, Original Peoples do not adhere to such a capitalist concept. []
  7. Kim Petersen, “Corporate Rights Trump Indigenous Rights in Ontario,” The Dominion, 5 June 2008. []
  8. Martin Lukacs, “Coup d’état in Indian Country,” The Dominion, 16 March 2008. []
  9. Kim Petersen, “Oil Versus Water,” The Dominion, 15 October 2007. []
  10. Kim Petersen, “The Struggle for Haida Gwaii,” The Dominion, 6 November 2004. []
  11. Kim Petersen, “Canada’s Oil Invasion,” Dissident Voice, 25 April 2005. []
  12. Kim Petersen, “Canada, Racism, Genocide, and the Bomb,” The Dominion, 5 April 2005. []
  13. Gary Zatzman, “Marshall Decision: What is the trouble and who is the troublemaker in the East Coast fisheries?TML Weekly, 28 November-5 December 1999. []
  14. Kim Petersen “‘I take this as genocide,’” The Dominion, 30 December 2004. []
  15. Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, “‘It’s All About The Land,’” The Dominion, 1 March 2008. []
  16. Media release, “First Nation Chiefs Declare Skeena Watershed ‘Fish Farm Free Zone’ at Public Aquaculture Hearings,” Friends of Wild Salmon, 19 June 2006. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Annie said on June 12th, 2008 at 8:18am #

    Thank you for this succinct article on a subject with which I am unfamiliar. It is amazing that colonization and imperialism are not just occuring in Africa and South America, but in Canada and Mexico and Haiti, which are much closer to home. How do the colonizers sleep at night?

  2. hp said on June 12th, 2008 at 8:40am #

    Canada, the last bastion of fading white idealism. For all these many years Americans looked to Canada for a sort of relief, an illusioned refuge from our own complicit guilt filled history. Looked to Canada, a nation of gentle peaceful people who ‘did it right,’ who somehow found a naive peace amid a world of battles.
    Of course, all along we knew that underneath the veneer of gentle Canadian demeanor, far off in the distance of that vast expanse of lonely echoes, the truth lives and breathes. Tucked away among the shores and trees, hills and plains of endless time, the original people of the land and waters light their fires, mouth their chants into the darkest night to touch the souls of all their restless ancestors, moving on the path of endless sorrow.

  3. brian said on June 12th, 2008 at 5:47pm #

    ‘How would you feel if some invaders killed your grandparents, stole their farm and the land of the entire community, stuck your parents and the rest of the surviving community on a remote patch, …”

    which is precisely what happened in Zimbabwe, as well. Yet we see very few left wing people prepared to aid the zimbabweans, and all to ready to believe the mainstream demonisation campaign underway.
    Australias Green Left Weekly is a case in point. Here is my letter to them:

    Hi GLW
    What do president mugabe of Zimbabwe and Fidel Casto have in common: both are victors in wars of liberation, both are regularly demonised by the capitalist countries. Where do they differ: in their treatment by Green Left Weekly.
    Where GLW is clueless, Castro is aware: In a 2002 meeting with Mugabe, he had this to say, as reported in the Zim Herald and told by Rob Gowland: ‘Castro told president Mugabe that he was ‘confident in Zimbabwe’s victory despite the obstacles”‘
    http://www.cpa.org.au/booklets/zimbabwe.pdf
    No mention here of Mugabe being an authoritian capitalist terrorisng his country…

    In 2006, President mugabe attended the NAM summit, where Granma, had this to say:
    ‘The first to take the floor was Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe who, in the name of Africa, thanked the Cuban people and government for their hospitality and organization of the event.
    He expressed the absolute confidence of the African nations in Cuba’s leadership of the Movement and reiterated his conviction that when this troika is ended and we arrive in Egypt, the next summit venue, we will have recovered the role that the Movement had one day in international relations and the much desired revitalization will be a fact.
    We all consider, said Mugabe, that this Summit has been one of the best, while asking for the transmission of “our extremely warm message to brother Fidel for his prompt recovery.”’
    http://209.85.173.104/search?q=cache:Y6DxFdkRZvwJ:www.granma.cu/ingles/2006/septiembre/domin17/39clausura-i.html+zimbabwe+mugabe+granma&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=5&gl=au
    So given Cubas pleasant reception of president Mugabe, over many years, why has GLW persisted in its attacks on Mugabe and his government? Has it been deceived by the mainstream media hysterical media demonisation campaign?
    Why has GLW not made use of the work of Stephen Gowans and Gregory Elich, both left wing comentators, and both well versed in the issue?
    Is it because Gowans has written:
    ‘In their zeal to demonize Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF government it sometimes seems that members of the “independent left” are working for the US government. The reason why is that many are.’

    ‘Australia’s Green Left Weekly, and the Zimbabwe International Socialist Organization, have both backed the opposition MDC from the start (in fact, the ISO is a founding member) [6]. The problem with the MDC is that it’s the US and EU vehicle for strengthening a neo-colonial domination of Zimbabwe and of white farmers for stopping land reform.’
    http://www.raceandhistory.com/Zimbabwe/2007/0804.html
    Instead, and as if to illustrate Gowans thesis, we have Norm Dixon, who believes Mugabe is carrying out a terror campaign:
    ‘Zimbabwe’s authoritarian capitalist government, headed by President Robert Mugabe, has unleashed a massive wave of police brutality and destruction in an attempt to terrorize the country’s fiercely anti-government urban working class and other poor city dwellers.’
    http://www.worldpress.org/Africa/2095.cfm
    Someone should tell Fidel and the Cubans, because they seems unware of this. Authoritarian? Capitalist? The above statement that appeared in the GLW for 2005 is pure bilge. It’s the poor who have bene consistently voting FOR Mugbe and ZANU-PF. The alernative is the MDC, which is both funded by foreign governments (an act illegal in the US) and has a policy of neoliberal privatisation:

    ‘The establishment of a new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in September 1999, found instant support from Western leaders. Significant funding from Western sources enabled the party to rapidly grow to the point where it won 57 out of 120 seats in the June 24-25 2000 parliamentary election, less than one year after its creation. Ostensibly based in the labor movement, the program of MDC reads like a call for a return to ESAP. A policy paper issued by the party spelled out its plans for privatization. Upon taking power, the party plans to appoint a “fund manager to dispose of government-owned shares in publicly quoted companies.” The boards of all public enterprises would be “reconstituted,” and the new boards would be “required to privatize their enterprises within specified timetables…with an overall target of privatizing all designated parastatals [public companies] within two years.” The interests of Western capital would not be ignored
    http://www.swans.com/library/art8/elich004.html

    Is Norm aware of this? Is GLW? Are both aware that the MDC’s base like the base for Bush: is the urban MIDDLE classes NOT the urban poor, let alone the rural majority of zimbabweans. It is these latter people for whom the war of liberation was fought. They are the ones driving Mugabes very uncapitalist policies: esp the reclamation of land stolen from them by the white invaders. Doesn’t it seem strange that Norms capitalist should be having talks with the worlds leading critic of capitalism: Fidel Castro?
    So why is a leading left wing paper like GLW supporting making common cause with the MSM and neoliberal foreign funded political party?

    Its revealing that GLW publishes the writings of Dixon and Patrick Bond where both are clearly Pro-MDC, while refusing to publish the work of Stephen Gowans and Greg Elich?
    Why has GLW not reported on Tsvangirais remarks that even the BBC reported:
    ‘The Movement for Democratic Change leader told 20,000 supprters at a rally on Saturday that if Mr Mugabe did not want to step down before the next elections scheduled for 2002 “we will remove you violently”. ‘
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/952796.stm
    Why has GLW not reported on president Mugabes repudiation of violence:

    ‘President slams violence’
    http://www.herald.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=34757&cat=1

    GLW is self described as ‘Australia’s Radical Newspaper’ and it is on most issues. But as the decision to post Bond and Dixon over Elich and Gowans is an editorial one; on Zimbabwe, it is as conservative as the Australian.

    regards
    Brian
    Australia

  4. hp said on June 12th, 2008 at 6:44pm #

    Kevin Annett does indeed deserve credit and deserves to be heard:

    http://www.rense.com/general82/day.htm

  5. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 12th, 2008 at 7:56pm #

    Thanks for this, Kim. It’s quite a dose of truths from very, very near our border. (Annie, I think a worse litany of atrocities could be charged to the United States, had more Native Americans survived into the 2oth century.) And even the redoubtable hp waxes poetic.

    I especially thank you, Kim, for your footnote #12. Your piece in The Dominion titled “Canada, Racism, Genocide, and the Bomb” added to a particular historical interest of mine — concerning international activites and inactivities in Greenland, Denmark, and now Canada, in support of the Manhattan Project.

  6. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 12th, 2008 at 9:38pm #

    Strangely enough (to me), Austrailia-Brian’s post was not up when I posted mine. But in any case…my post was just some pointless praise.

    What’s your point, Brian?

  7. denk said on June 12th, 2008 at 9:54pm #

    “On 14 September this year, the New Zealand government and three other governments (Canada, USA and Australia) shared the dubious distinction as the only states to vote against the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”

  8. denk said on June 12th, 2008 at 9:58pm #

    Lloyd Rowsey
    **Strangely enough (to me), Austrailia-Brian’s post was not up when I posted mine. **

    post with multiple links is tagged as likely spam, it wont appear immediately coz the modulator would want to take a look at it first.

  9. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 12th, 2008 at 10:12pm #

    Tanks, denk

  10. elzee said on June 14th, 2008 at 8:11pm #

    Kim:
    A few points for non-Canadian readers who have no idea what is going on here.
    1. Why ‘white man’s education’? Because your own elders and tribal leaders insisted on education during treaty negotiations. They were wise enough to recognize that that was where the future lay.
    2. Why ‘residential schools’? Because these schools go back almost a century, and came to a stop almost a half-century ago. The further back you go in time, the more independent natives were. Natives were to be found by the side of lakes in the middle of nowhere, because they liked the fishing, or in a hut in the middle of the bush because the trapping was good. My father was mining and prospecting in the wildest of locations, in the 1920’s, and natives were found in the most unexpected locations- often begging the ‘white man’ for food. So, if education was to be had, it had to be ‘residential’ schools- there was no other way. And what of the natives who say that the residential school experience was the best days of their youth: that for the first time in their lives they were clean and dry and warm and well-fed. Ooops! The Indian Industry shut them up pretty fast. No extortion value in those type of stories.
    3. Loss of language, loss of culture? Aw, c’mon, Kim. In the first place, the purpose of education is to have everyone speaking the same language, and thinking 2+2=4. It would have been impossible to find Cree and Ojibaway speaking teachers: and even if they could be found, such an education would be worthless- witness the language that you use when you wish to communicate with the world. Second, what is the mighty “culture” you people talk about? There is no music, no art, no architecture, no literature, etc. that you can honestly say is your own- natives didn’t even have a written language when Europeans came here. What the dreaded ‘white man’ found when he came here is a few hundred thousand stone-age, nomadic and subsistence hunter-gatherers drifting around the continent- people who hadn’t even invented the wheel. What the natives at the time did have was slavery, torture, wife-stealing, kidnapping, cannibalism, species-extinction, and genocide. Tell the truth Kim: if you know anything about your people you know that even today incest and rape are part of the tribal culture. And, finally, if there was any real desire on the part of natives to preserve their languages and their “cultures”, it would have been done, sponteneously- IF anybody actually cared about them.
    While I am at it, let’s talk a little about preservation of culture. Here in Manitoba, in the Waterhen district, the provincial wildlife officials had to strike a deal with the local (reserve) natives: the province would re-introduce moose into the area- WHICH THE NATIVES HUNTED TO EXTINCTION- provided the natives would not hunt moose for 5 years. Some stewards of the land, eh, Kim? The province also started a program to teach natives on reserves to hunt and fish and garden, to offset the high price of food up north. That is laughable, isn’t it Kim, when you consider that the original intent of reserves was to set aside- reserve- land for the exclusive use of natives to preserve their traditional way of life, until such time as they were ready to join mainstream society. Reserves were never meant to be 650-odd little red cities dotted across the Canadian landscape, tax-free havens for tin-feather dictators. But that is a concrete and recent example, demonstrating how much desire there REALLY is to preserve the traditional native way of life.
    4. Abuse? There was some sexual abuse- not that sexual abuse is something totally foreign to natives, in their own “culture”. But the bona fide cases have been resolved some years back, with compensation and criminal charges laid. And the rest of it are stories about spankings and punishments for not speaking English, etc. Well, Kim, my parents and my aunts and uncles were also punished in their one-room classrooms for not speaking English. Everybody was treated the same way back then. That was just the spirit of the times.

    I have deep roots in the west and in the north. I have a great deal of respect for the traditional natives: the ones who could live off the land and struck off into the bush by themselves for days and weeks and months, and survive; respect for the ones who discovered medicinal and edible plants, and how to do and make-do; respect for those who fought bravely against impossible odds. I have great reverence for traditional natives. But you political natives, you who claim to have been spanked a half century ago, and are still crying- you disgust me. It is a sham to extort compensation from the taxpayers.

    And, Kim, you must know how preposterous some of the native land claims really are. Claims are made against land, no matter how ridiculous the claim, for propaganda purposes, and for the sake of preventing development, in the hope extorting money from the developer. You political indians have extortion scams that would make Al Capone blush with shame.
    But, that is a story for another writing.

  11. John Hatch said on June 15th, 2008 at 5:46pm #

    I believe the last residential school to close did so in 1983, on Vancouver Island.

    The second last one was around the same time in Williams Lake, BC. St. Joseph’s became famous because the Bishop of Prince George, Hugh O’Connor repeatedly raped a young native resident and she became pregnant.

    Typical of the times, the good Bishop treated the matter as a ‘felixculpa’, that is, he blamed everything on young the girl and saw himself as a quasi-martyr who had his vow of chastity ripped from him. He saw himself as tragic, not criminal.

    The Archbishop of the time, Adam Exner thought the poor fallen Bishop had ‘suffered enough’, and had no opinion on the possible suffering of the girl.

    Meanwhile there are countless unmarked graves of Native children whose names are forgotten. Even a God (even the Catholic one) would weep at the abyss of suffering caused to innocent children. An eternity of apologies would not be enough. That’s the trouble with evil. It can’t be undone.