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System has to change: Sinclair

By Frank Flegel


REGINA — Justice Murray Sinclair re-told the now familiar story associated with Indian residential schools at the Woodrow Lloyd Lecture held Feb. 24 at the University of Regina, but he offered some suggestions for healing. Sinclair was the chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that recently released its report on residential schools.

“Every child needs to know the answers to four questions: where do I come from, where am I going, why am I here, and who am I? The answers to those questions were impaired by the residential schools.”

Later in the lecture he said public schools, where children were sent after residential schools were closed, didn’t answer those questions either because the end goal was the same: to assimilate children into mainstream society.

With a brief introduction he showed a video with Manitoba singer Aaron Peters who sings about what he called “the perfect crime” about the treatment of indigenous children in residential schools and foster care. The opening words are: “From unmarked graves their bones cry out,” and he goes on to show and sing about mistreatment. The video had scenes of nuns and priests in classrooms of Indian children and some quick scenes of a rapping on knuckles with a pointer and someone being strapped but no identification of who was applying the pointer or strap and who was on the receiving end.

Sinclair did note that fewer than 50 per cent of children in residential schools suffered physical or sexual abuse, but all suffered psychologically, being torn from their families. Sinclair said if what took place in residential schools were to happen today it would be subject to prosecution as cultural genocide.

He was also critical of the child welfare system. “It is built on the wrong funding model. The more children you take into care the more funding you receive. It was designed by people who created the problem.” He referred to what is now called “the big scoop” in the 1960s when children were taken and placed for adoption or in foster homes with the intention of not returning them to their families.

Sinclair referred to the high numbers of Aboriginals in jails and suggested that’s one of the legacies of residential schools and the child welfare system. “The system has to change. Children need to be with their families. There is a long-term need to change how we talk to each other, and the education system needs to change.”

In response to a question, Sinclair said to read the report or the summaries and especially the calls for action. “Pick one and work to make it happen.”

Elder Noel Starblanket was asked to open the session with a prayer and in a symbolic gesture, he said, “I call my good friend Father John Meehan to come and pray together with me,” and asked all in the audience to join in a silent prayer of their own. Meehan is president of Campion College, a federated college of the University of Regina.

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