The 1867 British North America Act and the education of minorities

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday August 22 2012 in Opinion
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When confronting injustice, as victim or victimizer, one might err. In neither circumstance, however, must one be dishonourable or dishonest; that is, on one hand making a virtue of injustice, and on the other, diluting its toxicity.

 

Regarding education and Black communities in Ontario, a statement in an article, “Many Rivers to Cross”, is as close to reality as one can get:

 

“In the last century (the 1800s), African-Canadians were forced to agitate for better education for their children, even forming their own schools…(because) many white educators and politicians sought to deny African-Canadian children access to good education…”

 

In this regard, we were not alone. Other communities, Catholic/Francophone and First Nations, also had to struggle for rights specific to their particular needs in education. For the former, and as protection against the then Protestant majority, these rights were enshrined in the original 1867 British North America Act (BNA).

 

The BNA has in essence been a series of Acts – 21 in all, 1867 to 1975. It initially confirmed Canada both as part of British colonial territory in North America, and as a Confederation – the year from which Canada has been celebrated as a nation. In 1982, as the Canada Act, it legalized Canada’s independence, continuing with monarchic British ties.

 

Thus, while the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, addressed this issue of education for Catholic/Francophone minorities in 1867, for the non-White First Nations, addressing their needs in education came much later.

 

Specifically, regarding the egregious impact of the residential schools on First Nations children and communities, it took a 21st century Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to acknowledge this injustice.

 

And what were these injustices?

 

First Nations children were torn away from their families and communities; some were even taken into the U.S.; they were forced against speaking their languages or practicing their culture. They were subjected to various forms of abuse: physical, psychological, sexual.

 

Many of them, now adults, carry the injuries and bitterness of these schools as addictions: to alcoholism, drugs, violence and dysfunctional families…

 

These addictions further morphed into iniquities as prostitution among some First Nations women. Several have been murdered or have disappeared.

 

In December 2007, Robert William Pickton, a British Columbia pig farmer, was convicted of multiple counts of murder. He boasted about murdering 49 women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and regretted not making it to 50 before being caught.

 

Six months later, on June 11, 2008, Harper, acknowledging the injustices in educating First Nations children, offered this apology:

 

“The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history. Today, we recognize this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country. The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.”

 

This acknowledgement after more than a century by White Canada was given following pressure and advocacy from First Nations people across Canada.

 

Their efforts were – and continue to be – spearheaded by their regional and national organizations. Their national organization, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), is an executive committee of 10 regional chiefs.

 

The AFN, in structure and impact, could be a model for the proposed AAC: The Assembly of African-Canadians.

 

To be continued.

 

By LENNOX FARRELL

 

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