Compassion Towards Other Cultures

Years ago during a Native Studies course in University, I noticed that the room often seemed tense and many of the Native People seemed angry to the point that I started to feel self-conscious about being Caucasian. I had heard talk of injustices growing up yet in my lack of knowledge I wondered why my peers continued to be angry at something that happened so many years ago -- surely it wasn't affecting the Native population now? This, and later courses, were an eye-opener.

Imagine the following: people of a different culture coming to your land saying that you are inferior and that you "should be brought into contact with European cultural values and ultimately live by them” (Beck 1990). Then your land is taken and you're forcibly moved to reservations, some hundreds of kilometers away. You're culture is stripped away -- your ceremonies like the pot-latch are forbidden because sharing your belongings with others in your community is wrong (how can you acquire wealth if you give it to those who need it more? Capitalism is the way to go!) and the size of your reservations are not adequate for you to hunt and forage causing "...a state of enforced welfare dependency." (Beck 1990). With no means to subsist on the substandard land given to your family and with the officials stealing your rations, you, once an independent person, become dependent on those who seek to 'civilize' you.

Now, you may wonder how all this in the past has bearing on the present. Well there's more. Seeking to decimate the culture, the government hacked at the roots by trying to convince you to send your children away to school -- but you refused. As a result government officials take your children away forcibly -- a whole generation of children raised away from their loved ones where "use of Indian languages by children was forbidden under threat of corporal punishment, students were boarded out to white families during vacation times" as well. (Beck 1990) Many never see their families again or when they do they are alienated/brainwashed due to the abuse and acculturation.

Now, if children are raised in a sort of jail with abuse (harsh corporal punishment, emotional/sexual abuse) and without love, how well do you think they do passing down love (something they’ve long forgotten) to their children? How many turn to addictions to escape the horrors of their critical development years? How many repeat the cycles of abuse they've suffered upon their children?

One of my Native professors said that the impacts of this generation of children are still felt today as it can take many cycles before the abuse stops being passed down and is healed. And so when I see anger in a Native person's eyes I now feel compassion.

I’m sure a similar article could be written about many minority/special needs groups in Canada and as a counsellor, or just as a human being, it’s important to meet people where they are at and not judge them for we can’t truly know the experiences of others.

Beck, Peggy V., Anna Lee Walters and Nia Francisco. "The Sacred Ways of Knowledge, Sources of Life." Tsaile, Arizona: Northland Publishing Co., 1990. pp. 141-163.

Also, here are some informative links relating to residential schools with brief quotes:
"In 1928, a government official predicted Canada would end its "Indian problem" within two generations." and "Residents of some northern Ontario reserves are reeling from a series of suicides by their young people, and they're pointing to their own past as the culprit. With no parental role models, a generation raised in residential schools has passed on the trauma to their kids."

"between 1894 and 1908 mortality rates at residential schools in Western Canada ranged from 30% to 60% over five years"

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