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Knowing History is Key to Moving Forward

We need to take a serious look at history. Sometimes there are events, attitudes, policies or actions from our past that are overlooked and that still have a significant impact on what?s happening today, for instance the colonization of Indigenous people. One might properly argue that the keys to this process are the de-humanization and vilification of Indigenous people. While many feel that these practices are long gone we still see past proponents of colonization honoured in the naming of public places and buildings, and we stifle the past and pretend these things never existed. Without acknowledging these things, we can never get past their effect. Reinforcing this idea is the recent argument in the United States where current-day violence and race relation difficulties are connected to the refusal of their  society to have a full conversation about the history of slavery. Conversely, many have said that Germany is moving forward and progressing because of the considerable effort made to discuss openly the terrible events that had taken place during World War Two.

So what about Canada? How do we fare? Lets take a couple of examples for consideration. Ask yourself, would anyone dare to name a hospital honouring a person in Canadian history who oversaw starvation experiments on children? Well, the government of Canada has done just that with the naming of the Percy E. Moore Hospital.

Between 1942 and 1952, some of North America's leading nutrition experts, with full cooperation from various Canadian departments, conducted an extraordinary amount of nutritional studies of Indigenous communities and residential schools. One study done involving the James Bay Survey of Attawapiskat and Rupert?s House Cree First Nation, and two separate long-term studies that went so far as to include controlled experiments conducted without the consent on malnourished Indigenous populations in Northern Manitoba and further in six (6) Indian Residential Schools across Canada. These experiments were also done in Norway House at the residential school and the 'Norway House Indian Hospital'.

Dr. Karen Stote, an associate professor of women and gender studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, authored An Act of Genocide, Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women. In her work, Dr. Stote found that the Percy E. Moore Hospital in Hodgson, which opened in 1973, was listed as having performed 16 sterilizations of indigenous women. Over the same period, 54 were performed in Norway House. In this light, naming a hospital after Percy E. Moore does not seem fitting nor appropriate and is unsettling. 

As another example, consider the building located across from the Parliament Buildings that houses the Prime Minister's Office named after Hector-Louis Langevin who was reported to be a strong proponent of the residential school system. He said of Indigenous children and residential schools, "If you leave them in the family they may know how to read and write, but they will remain savages, whereas by separating them in the way proposed, they acquire the habits and tastes ... of civilized people." Again, naming an important government building after Hector-Louis Langevin does not seem fitting nor appropriate.

In fact, when we got to the top and consider John A. MacDonald, he had the reputation of implementing policies where Indigenous people were barred from selling their agricultural products to white settlers, were restricted from using modern farming implements and could be arrested if found off their reserve without a pass. When criticized for squandering money on feeding the Cree, MacDonald told the House of Commons that on the contrary, he facilitated the withholding of food "until the Indians were on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense."

We need to be aware of such things in history so that we can begin to dispel and disentangle ourselves from the stereotypes perpetuated from our past. We must take a serious look at our history, know it, and together finally free ourselves from colonization and de-humanization. Let us recognize our destructive and divisive past, work on reconciliation and begin with renaming the Percy E. Moore hospital. Let us take a lesson from the celebration of Easter and recognize the necessity of remembering the past, for without it we cannot begin anew.

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