Give Me Freedom

Remembering the First Nation, Métis and Inuit Children

 

The song Give Me Freedom is dedicated to the thousands of children who were abused and lost their lives in the Canadian Residential Schools. This song is being posted a few days before Canadian National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, 2021 as a way of standing in solidarity with the living survivors of these schools, and with the families of students who died in the schools or never returned home.

 

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a formal apology on behalf of the government of Canada for having committed these children into schools, and causing horrible abuse, separation of the children from their families, and the demeaning of First Nations cultural identity and practices.

 

Below are some excerpts from Stephen Harper’s speech of June 11, 2008.  In light of the recent discovery of the mass grave on the grounds of a residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia, I think it is appropriate to re-visit this speech, to affirm that we are in hearty agreement with Harper’s words regarding the terrible damage done and the deep regret and sorrow we have over this dark chapter in Canada’s history.

 

Excerpts from Stephen Harper’s speech of June 11, 2008:

 

“Beginning in the 1870's, and continuing for more than a century, Indian Residential Schools separated over 150,000 Aboriginal children from their families and communitiesTwo primary objectives of the Residential Schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture.  These objectives were based on the assumption that Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, "to kill the Indian in the child".  Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.”

 

The Government of Canada built an educational system in which very young children were often forcibly removed from their homes, often taken far from their communities.  Many were inadequately fed, clothed and housed.  All were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents, grandparents and communities.  First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools.  Tragically, some of these children died while attending residential schools and others never returned home.

 

The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.  While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools, these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children, and their separation from powerless families and communities.

 

To the approximately 80,000 living former students, and all family members and communities, the Government of Canada now recognizes that it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes and we apologize for having done this.  We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this.  We now recognize that, in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done this.

 

Standing in Solidarity

We are all part of the global human family.  Though most of us personally had nothing to do with perpetrating the crimes listed above, we can stand up for the rights of our First Nations, Inuit and Métis brothers and sisters.  We can speak out on their behalf and we can agree with the apology that Stephen Harper made thirteen years ago.  Wounds from tragic abuse take a long time to heal.  Expressing our support through words of love makes a difference.

 

The song Give Me Freedom is based on Psalm 6 in the Bible.  We can imagine that many of the children confined to the residential schools were uttering cries for help similar to words of these verses.

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andy Park

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