Monday, March 12, 2018

Could we have done better?

Richard Wagamese, Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) novelist, journalist, mentor, born October 4, 1955, in northwestern Ontario, died March 10, 2017, in Kamloops, BC.
A well-known Indigenous writer in Canada, Wagamese won several awards including the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize in 2013 and the Writers' Trust of Canada's Matt Cohen Award in 2015.
His novel, Indian Horse, was the People's Choice Award winner in the national 2013 Canada Reads competition.
His novel, Medicine Walk, is a national bestseller.

Richard Wagamese was born to the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations in Canada. When he was almost three years old, his parents left him and his three siblings alone in a bush camp for days. Cold and hungry, the children managed to cross a frozen bay to seek shelter.
A provincial policeman spotted them and dropped them off at the Children's Aid Society, but this story can have no "happily ever after" ending.

From there, the siblings were taken away in what is now known as "the Sixties Scoop," a government program in Canada that aggressively "scooped" Indigenous children from their homes and placed them in foster care.

Much has been written about the horrors of the Sixties Scoop and the years that followed, but I am no expert on that subject, nor even on Richard Wagamese.
Far from it...

My own reaction to the story of Wagamese's childhood is the story I wish to tell here. Richard Wagamese was born in 1955, a year that drastically changed my life. I was nine years old, with one younger brother and one little sister, and our mom was about to have a new baby.
Photo from Pexels

Having been of little help with my two siblings, I was so excited to have another sister when wee Barbara Diane was born! After all, being nine years old (and almost grown up, or so I thought) meant I could help Mom with the new baby.
However, due to a mysterious something called "the RH factor" my baby sister died after three days.
I didn't even get to see her, because children weren't allowed to visit hospitals in  the 1950s.

But no, again, I'm not here to talk about baby Barbara, her short life, nor even her death, although it proved to be of lasting devastation to me after all my excitement.

No, I want to tell you about two little Indigenous boys who did not come into my life.

Some while after Barbara died and, because the doctor told Mom and Dad to avoid further pregnancies, they decided to look into adoption. Apparently, however, the part of the British Columbia bureaucracy that handled adoption applications also handled fostering. Therefore, when no child was available for adoption in our bureaucracy's jurisdiction, Mom and Dad were told they could foster two small Indigenous boys.

Photo from Pexels
My mother was horrified. "Foster them? Do you mean we might have to give them up?"

Mom could not face losing another child, and especially two children. "I would be happy to adopt both of them, but I cannot give them up."

The subject of their ethnicity didn't factor into the equation. They could have been purple people from Pluto but, if they were little ones in need of love and caring, Mom would have adopted and loved them and cared for them, but wouldn't have given them up any more than she'd have let go of me, my brother or  my sister.
"Horrified" hardly suffices, now that I look back on it. My brother, sister, and I were raised to believe that ethnicity didn't factor into any equation whatsoever. "All men are created equal" could have come from my father if that great American Thomas Jefferson hadn't already said it.

Now, however, I can look back and answer my own question: could we (Canadians and especially British Columbians) have done better than the governments of the 1950s and 60s did in their dealings with our Indigenous peoples?
Yes, we certainly could.
It seems to me, from the distance of many decades, that the federal and provincial governments of Canada could have done far better. Many, many lives, old and young, were ruined by the thoughtless scooping-up of Canada's youngsters in such a cavalier manner.
I can't even excuse them on the basis of their having had good intentions because, clearly, some of them did not. Many, so many children suffered beatings at the hands of their so-called caregivers, and many suffered more than mere beatings: torture, rape, starvation in the name of discipline...

Yes, Canada, we could have done better!
Yes, my beloved British Columbia, you too.

Posting for Our World Tuesday at a time when
I think of the world in which
so many of Canada's First Nations people suffered, and too many died.


Kay said...

So much sadness...
Canada could have done better. The U.S. and Australia could have done much, much better for the indigenous people. Actually, many other countries could have done better. Looking at the past, we NEED to think of how we can do better from now on. Unfortunately, the mindset right now for quite a few people is not in that direction which really scares me.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
True, Kay... but I'm not sure things have really improved - they've just shifted... it is a dreadful fact the vulnerable will ever be so. YAM xx

Jenn Jilks said...

We have to do better. Many are looking to the next 150 years.
It is up to us, as white settlers, to listen to the stories of the past.

(ツ) from Cottage Country Ontario , ON, Canada!

Jo said...

A thought-provoking post, Kay.

Lady Fi said...

So many terrible deeds! The Aborigines in Australia were also treated horribly. I just hope that we have learnt our lesson and will do better!

Jim said...

Quite right, Kay.

Thanks for sharing your history on being a tradesman or tradesperson. ;) The tradesman is held in high regard in Australia and nicknamed a "tradie". :)

magiceye said...


Pea bea said...

My heart totally goes with your mom. When my daughter was young and I worked, she went to a babysitter who also fostered children. I applauded her for her spirit to do that, but I often thought how heartbreaking to have to give those children back, and sometimes even to parents that would no doubt not do better and the child would end up someplace else. I know I would have gotten so attached. I agree with some other commenters that I hope we would do better today, but I have my doubts. So many sad stories of children and their abuses. Thanks for sharing.

Peabea from Pictorial Tuesday

Joyful said...

All around the world indigenous people have suffered the same fate. It really makes me sad to know human beings can treat other human beings so deplorably.

Joyful said...

It's troubling what happened in Canada and in BC. Sadly it also happened to indigenous people all around the world in virtually every place where there are other indigenous people. I really wonder how human beings can treat other human beings so appallingly.

Gattina said...

I diddn't know that it happened in Canada too, I only new about horror stories in Australia !

Phil Slade said...

Hello kay. Those are two very sad personal stories intertwined with the sadness of history. We have similar stories from the UK with children sent to Australia and children in large institutions being ill treated or worse. Hindsight is rather easy but unfortunately we can not rewrite history, nor should we.

Hope you are both well and that spring is on the way for you. All Best Wishes from Stalmine and Lancashire.

carol l mckenna said...

A Very thought provoking post ~

Happy Day to you,
A ShutterBug Explores,
aka (A Creative Harbor)

Angie said...

Unfortunately, the world over, we have human beings deciding that one group is 'first' and others are not. With each generation, we must keep working to remove these artificial divisions. Thanks for making us pause and think.

Birgitta said...

A very thought-provoking post.

Dave @ Around Alaska said...

A sad post. There are so many horrible stories in our past, USA, Canada, Australia, etc. We all must do better and it starts with ourselves.


Powell River Books said...

There have been quite a few reconciliation group meetings here in Powell River over the last year. I wasn't in Canada for the period of residential schools or the 60s Scoop, but I did live through discrimination for Native American, Hispanic and Black people in the United States. We could all have done better, and the opportunity is still there. Discrimination exists and needs to be recognized and addressed. - Margy

Minoru Saito said...

Hi! Very sad story. Thanks for sharing.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

So sad what happened to our First People back then. (On this side of the border too). And so important not to forget our history and most importantly not to repeat it. Your mom sounds an amazing woman ready to give in spite of her sorrow. The story of the little boys she was so ready to love but wsn't allowed to brought tears to my eyes. I've personally known well a worthy family that was ready to adopt a foster child but wasn't allowed to because of bureaucratic regulations in spite of what was clearly best for the child.

John's Island said...

Hello Kay, What an interesting blog you have here and I am lucky to have found it thanks to a kind comment you left on mine. I am your newest follower. Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment you left for me yesterday. You surely did a fine job of writing up the story of the two boys who did not get into your life. It is truly a sad story. And, it is kind of surprising to me as I am of the impression that Canada does much better with these kind of things. At least, I think, better than we do down here in the "States". I will look forward to reading more from you. Have a fine week ahead! John

dee Nambiar said...

I guess all countries have a bit of history, its people cannot be proud of.
This post makes all of us readers 'feel' what you feel.

Have a good week, Kay. :)

Seraphinas Phantasie said...

Thank you very much for introducing Richard Wagamese. I've never heart before of him, but I want to read a book of him now.
Best, Synnöve