EDITORIAL: As national grief over discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children sets in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced appointment of his country's first Indigenous governor general. A First Nations progeny Mary Simons, a diplomat and leading Indigenous rights advocate, will represent Queen Elizabeth II as Canada's official head of state. Justin Trudeau has also spoken to Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize on Canadian soil for Catholic Church's horrifying role in residential schools, something the pope has already done in Bolivia in 2015. The Canadian parliament, too, wants a papal apology.
These schools had operated between 1831 and 1996. Canada had removed about 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes and brought them to Christian church institutions where they had to cut their long hair and were forbidden from practicing their culture. According to estimates by Truth and Reconciliation Commission, approximately 4,100 to 6,000 Indigenous children died amid abuse and neglect in the residential school system that was geared to "take the Indian out of the child". And it remains a mystery as to how many more graves are there in the land of Canada's First Nations. It was a cultural genocide of Indigenous people. By then Canada had outlawed slavery but the passion to Christianize the children of First Nations persisted, and these churches were tasked to actualize that passion. How a saddened Canada should reconcile with its gory past, the First Nations say, they should give the buried children a proper burial and it would help find closure.
What happened to the Indigenous people and their particular socio-cultural fabric in the white-Christian ruled Canada is a tragic narrative of almost all indigenous cultures. In the colonial times, slavery was a call of the day. In the United States, the Red Indians did fight back in order to protect and preserve their way of life but they had to finally surrender and submit to superior arms carried by the colonizing armies. Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley depicts in vivid detail how the Africans were stolen from their motherlands in West Africa to serve white masters in the colonized countries, particularly the one that later became the United States. And even now, the skeletons of slaves from East Africa are found on the sandbars in the Indian Ocean as they were ditched there by human traffickers when confronted by French and British ships (France and Great Britain had outlawed slavery by then). Historically, as the better armed colonial armies vanquished Indigenous people by force, the Catholic church set about converting their progeny to Christianity, and that was also the case for the First Nations of Canada. How come then the Canadians, who gave shelter to runaway slaves from America - as narrated in Harriet Beecher Stove's in Uncle Tom's Cabin - were playing havoc with special cultures of their own Indigenous people?
There are two lessons to be learnt from the Canadian ordeal. First, we should not forget what happened to the Indigenous people and their cultures at the hands of colonial powers. And, there is nothing like the superior races and inferior races. Every race has its own particular, if not peculiar, way of life and it is only in that way of life that the racial entity can make best use of its natural capabilities. Those who disown their past have no future. Two, the Canadian government must take concrete steps to fully integrate the people of the First Nations to eliminate what has been described by some as the "systematic racism, discrimination and injustice" against them. Given the present Canadian administration's pain it felt over discovery of graves of Indigenous children, one is certain that the First Nations will become an integral part of the Canadian nation. In Pakistan, we have Indigenous people in Northern Areas, Cholistan, Thar and coastal areas of Makran. Their special ways of life, religious beliefs and economic independence must be recognised, protected and preserved. They are national assets.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021