Canadians hate Indians

Suppression of Indigenous Culture - How Canada Stole Its Own Children

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Until the 1990s, Indians in Canadian boarding schools were deprived of their childhood and culture. Canada is the guest country at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year - an occasion to shed light on a dark chapter in Canadian history.

"We had to eat our own vomit," says Edmund Metatawabin, who is around 70 and a member of the Cree nation. "And if we didn't obey, we were punished in the electric chair."

Terms

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  • "Indians" is used for Canadian indigenous people, male and female, who are not Inuit and Métis. "Indian" is a foreign name, but in the German language it is neither negatively nor racially charged.
  • The "Cree" are the largest Indian nation in Canada. About 350,000 people (Cree or Cree ancestors) belong to it.
  • "First Nations" are Indian reservation communities.

Metatawabin is a survivor of the so-called "Indian Residential Schools". In these re-education boarding schools, the aim was to wipe out Indian culture for good. They are one of the main reasons why the cultural identity of the Indians in northern Canada has been shattered.

Forcibly assimilated children

The "Indian Residential Schools" were founded towards the end of the 19th century, financed by the state and run by clergy.

The Swiss author and historian Manuel Menrath conducts research on Indian North America at the University of Lucerne. «Take a busy street in family quarters in Switzerland. And now the police come and collect all the children. This is exactly how you have to imagine it in the Indian settlements », says Menrath.

The children were torn from their parents, taken hundreds of kilometers away, put into Western clothing and were no longer allowed to speak their language. They were very homesick. At the same time, they were taught that their parents were primitive.

When they were allowed to visit their families, they had become so estranged from their parents that they could only hate or despise them. “In this way, the Indian society, of which the extended family is at its heart, was shattered at its core,” says Manuel Menrath.

Pain is passed on through generations

This trauma is passed on from generation to generation. The spiritual, physical, but also emotional and sexual abuse affects the lives of the Canadian Indians to this day. Manuel Menrath had over a hundred conversations for his book “Under the Northern Lights - Indians of Canada tell about their country”.

Book reference

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Manuel Menrath: «Under the northern lights. Indians from Canada talk about their country », Galiani Berlin, 2020.

Among other things with the 14-year-old Kara. She says: «My grandmother was a student at a residential school. People think we don't have the pain anymore. People think it doesn't affect us anymore. I am now the fifth generation and I still carry this pain. "

An alarming number of teen suicide attempts

The effects of the residential schools can still be felt today: alcoholism, drug illness, domestic violence, poverty, a lack of prospects. And suicide attempts that are increasing - especially by young people.

Between September 2015 and April 2016, around 100 young people tried to kill themselves in Attawapiskat, northern Ontario.

Manuel Menrath explains: “The government is shocked and lets social workers fly in. After a few weeks they leave again. The social trauma and the poverty trap are not tackled at the root. "

It's about housing shortages. For children in a small house with 16 people there is no privacy. In addition, there is likely to be domestic violence.

“These are the long-term effects of the residential school trauma. Those who have been beaten may then beat their children again. A spiral of violence », says Menrath.

Money doesn't bring back childhood

In 1990, Phil Fontaine, who later became the National Chief (Chief of the Assembly of First Nations), spoke publicly about his traumatic experiences in a residential school. From then on, more and more people came forward.

In 1996 the last residential school was closed. In 2008 Prime Minister Stephan Harper officially apologized.

An agreement had already been reached between the Canadian state and the approximately 86,000 former boarding school children still alive. They were financially compensated. But the stolen childhood could not be returned to them.

United voice for Indians

Despite all the grievances: The Indians do not passively submit to their suffering. The 49 First Nations in the northern part of the province of Ontario are geographically still completely isolated due to the distance of several hundred kilometers to the more densely populated southern Canada.

But since they formed a political organization, they have been a strong and united voice vis-à-vis the Canadian government.

On news portals and in the mass media, with their own lawyers, sympathizers and members of parliament. Edmund Metatawabin's son, Mike Metatawabin, says: “Our children should be able to grow up without fear. We have to give them hope on the way. "

For further reading: Three current indigenous novels from Canada

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Richard Wagamese: The wide heart of the country

The 16-year-old Ojibwe Frank grows up with a white guardian on a farm. He never met his mother, and his father, Eldon, an alcoholic, doesn't care about him. Until now. Because suddenly the war veteran calls him into town. Eldon is terminally ill - and has one last wish: Frank should bury him on a remote mountain ridge, in the style of Indian warriors. In return, he wants to tell the boy a secret.

The deeper the two penetrate into the wilderness, the deeper Eldon digs into his own past - and begins to tell: About a childhood in bitter poverty and how he survived as a day laborer and was traumatized in the Korean War. How he took refuge in drinking and lost the love of his life. It is only through the journey together that Eldon finds forgiveness, while Frank gets to know his roots.

A touching father-son tale about the healing power of stories. Wagamese shines with laconic dialogues and sensual descriptions of nature.

Richard Wagamese: The wide heart of the country. Translated from the English by Ingo Herzke. Blessing 2020.

Joshua Whitehead: Johnny Appleseed

He is an apple, his stepfather insults him: red on the outside and white on the inside. Because Johnny loves other men. He secretly watches the TV series “Queer as Folk” about five homosexual men, but cannot identify with the characters. Because they have "no clue what it means to be a brown gay boy on the reservation." Johnny is marginalized and mistreated. Only his Kokum, his grandmother, supports him. No wonder the young Cree flees to Winnipeg.

Life in the big city isn't easy either: To make ends meet, Johnny earns his living as a sex worker. Serves the fantasies of his white customers who fantasize about webcam sex with a "real Indian". At the same time, Johnny finds a self-confident identity: He realizes that he is a «two spirit», that is, neither male nor female. This gender identity was widely accepted by the indigenous peoples of Canada before colonization.

The bittersweet debut novel was rightly celebrated in Canada. Joshua Whitehead, Oji-Cree from Manitoba, clears up prejudices and shows an everyday life that is likely to be alien to most.

Joshua Whitehead: Johnny Appleseed. Translated from the English by Andreas Diesel, Albino Verlag 2020.

Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui: The great crash. Stories from Kitchike

The satire of the French-Canadian Picard-Sioui could not be further removed from Indian romanticism. Using a series of figures, the author describes life in the fictional small town of Kitchike. Tells about the spindly Noé, who cheats in a race to wipe out the corrupt reserve chief. About the gas station clerk Lydia, who has had enough of the alcoholics who stare at her breasts. Or the local missionary who threatens the Seven Plagues because his statue of a saint has disappeared.

Sometimes it gets fantastic: the snowshoe manufacturer Jean-Paul is haunted by black holes, and an indigenous goddess is listening in at a concert. Each character has its own voice: sometimes rough, sometimes tender, always sarcastic.

Picard-Sioui knows the problems of the reservations: The member of the Huron nation lives in one himself. Nevertheless, he treats the difficult topic light-footedly and with a wink. His snotty book of stories plays with clichés and creates a modern indigenous identity.

Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui: The Great Crash. Stories from Kitchike. Translated from the French by Sonja Finck and Frank Heibert, Secession Verlag 2020.

Selected by Florian Oegerli.

Broadcast: Radio SRF 2 Kultur, Context, October 13, 2020 5:58 p.m.

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  • Comment from Jacqueline Bisaz (Grosi Jaquie)
    There are two very touching books on this subject, not from Canada, but from Alaska: 'Two Old Women' and 'The Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun'. The author is Velma Wallis from the Athabascan tribe.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Denise Casagrande (begulide)
    The terrible, barbaric stories of suffering of the natives of the whole world, which had to be experienced by unscrupulous, violent "elements" of the genus of the "Homo sapiens" of the alleged "modernity, including church people", remain horrific and continue to exist in the world! Out of selfish greed = "corporate irresponsibility" worldwide, shameful trips also by Swiss corporations = lawless global economic policy !!?
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Lars Weiler (NachosAndCheese)
    To explain the terms: Indigenous people are now divided by the Canadian state into First Nations, Inuit and Métis. "Indian" is not to be equated with "First Nations", it is the official status that primarily affected First Nations people, which radically restricted the rights of the indigenous peoples, especially until 1985. Métis come from the fur trade between the French and First Nations. They mingled and thanks to the prosperity of this trade, their own people, culture and language emerged.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment

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