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Oct. 23, 2021 | Saturday
Editorials and Opinions
Editorial: We all are culpable

There was a small but solemn gathering in Simcoe Park on Sunday at 2:15 p.m.

Thanks to the initiative of Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Cosimo Chiovitti, a contingent of people from the area came out to pay their respects and honour the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were found buried near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

It was a good step forward for some in our community to quietly express their revulsion and sorrow at the acts perpetrated by those who ran the government-funded Kamloops school on behalf of the Roman Catholic church.

But, like Megan Vanderlee and her three children who last week created a memorial with dozens of children's shoes outside the front entrance to NOTL's only Catholic elementary school, St. Michael in Virgil, it is but a start.

We sincerely hope that as the news cycle inevitably drones on and other, newer crises capture the national consciousness, none of us will forget the travesty that our society, in our lifetimes, visited upon the Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools.

This is not ancient history. Like many other abhorrent practices that our Indigenous population still endures today (start with unsafe drinking water and Third World conditions on many reserves), it was allowed to happen on our watch.

As a society, we are all culpable.

We have no excuse for forgetting, for moving on or for not insisting our political and religious leaders take responsibility, fully investigate and bring reconciliation to the families and loved ones. If criminal charges are merited, and surely they are, let's hope the evidence is gathered and that some of the perpetrators are still alive and able to be prosecuted.

Political leaders – Liberal or Conservative – whose parties held power while residential schools were permitted to flourish and attempt to extinguish Indigenous culture, must take non-partisan responsibility. Do not politicize this collective Canadian failing.

And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's unkept promises to finally fix the problems on reserves and in Indigenous communities must be followed through upon. Now.

It remains shameful that the Catholic church continues to stonewall, evade and refuse to provide the full documentation of what went on behind the walls of the schools it ran.

The Pope and many others affiliated with the church have been unable to do the very Christian thing of simply, contritely apologizing. The process has been so corporate and unfeeling, so bereft of compassion that if and when an apology does finally come it likely will seem contrived and coerced.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in its more than 500-page final report almost six years ago, provided a road map for how government and society can fix a severely broken system. Read it here or at least go through the 14 pages of Calls to Action, a list of 94 largely ignored recommendations and solutions.

Thanks to the Town of NOTL's inclusivity committee, we were reminded a few weeks ago of how far our own small town still needs to go in dealing with entrenched attitudes of bigotry and hatred. And on Sunday evening, hours after the 2:15 ceremony in Simcoe Park, in London, Ont., we saw those kinds of attitudes played out as a white man – a terrorist – murdered four members of a Muslim family who were out for an evening walk.

These racial, white supremacist issues are separate but related to the philosophies that brought us residential schools and continue to devalue Indigenous people, treating them as second-class citizens.

And these ongoing problems should remind us daily that we all need to look in the mirror and recognize that change starts with us.

Each and every one of us.

* Please don't miss Ross Robinson's column on page 12 reflecting on a wonderfully Canadian moment here in NOTL that same Sunday.