Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Shingwauk's Vision

No one would accuse me of being one of Prime Minister Harper's biggest fans, but I do applaud his apology to Canada's aboriginal peoples regarding Indian residential schools. His words were excellent and his delivery sincere and heartfelt. And I delight in those times of national consciousness when eyes from east to west to north look towards our national capital, when our elected leaders manage to free themselves, however briefly, from cynicism and partisanship. It was a good day for Canada and Canadians.
Given St. Albert's history - founded by Catholic missionaries, populated early on by M├ętis and Aboriginal people, with two Indian residential schools in or near town - there was particular notice paid to Harper's apology locally. Anyone wanting to know more about the Indian residential schools tragedy has their pick of books at the Library.

The key book, perhaps the Gulag Archipelago of Canada's own historical blot, in terms of extensive historical treatment, is J. R. Miller's Shingwauk's Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools (1996). A quite readable, even-handed overview.

If Shingwauk's Vision is the Gulag Archipelago, perhaps Kiss of the Fur Queen is the One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - a novel that uses fiction to get to the emotional truth of the historical facts. This novel is by esteemed Cree writer Tomson Highway, best known for his hilarious and award-winning plays The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Outta Move to Kapuskasing. Clearly semi-autobiographical, Kiss of the Fur Queen tells the life story of Cree brothers Champion and Ooneemeetoo Okimasis, born in Northern Manitoba and then torn from their family at age 6 and sent to a Catholic residential school hundreds of miles away. A beautiful story, without giving it away, that contains triumph over adversity through art.

For a look at local impact, read Kevin Ma's piece in Wednesday's St. Albert Gazette. kevin reports on the history and continuing impact of two Indian residential schools in or near St. Albert in his article "Reconciling the truth".