By Dr David Laing Dawson
I have just visited memorials commemorating the successful defense of Vienna in 1638. The Turks were at the city gate and undermining the wall. They were just a few days away from plundering the city when the cavalry arrived, contingents from Poland, Cossacks from the Ukraine among many others, warriors from the Christian nations assembled by the emperor of Poland.
And it reminded me that all the tribes of humans have been conquering, pillaging and plundering each other for thousands of years. And that includes the tribes of the First Nations, the Ojibway, the Mohawk, the Sioux and all the others. And conquering meant, beside pillaging and plundering, killing or enslaving the men and boys and raping and/or assuming ownership of the girls and women.
It had been the way of mankind for centuries, and, here and there it seems, it still is.
During John A. McDonald’s lifetime the Americans to the south were still sending out the cavalry to kill as many Indians as they could. (the official policy was “removal” but that usually meant massacre)
In Canada the conquering had taken place by the British and French, with some killing and plundering but also with a number of treaties. Now what to do with the conquered, the many scattered tribes, the people we now refer to as First Nations?
If history were to guide it would tell us the conquering should continue, killing and enslavement of the males, the rape and enslavement of the females.
But John A. and others in the newly formed Canada decided on a different plan. They would round up all the Indian children and send them to boarding schools while leaving the adults to hunt and gather, fish and farm, on land set aside for them. The plan may have been to “take the Indian out of the child” along with learning English or French and a bit of arithmetic, and it proved to be not so great an idea, especially letting the church run the program, but all in all, considering historic precedent, including the way a conquering aboriginal tribe treated a conquered aboriginal tribe, was not this idea really a quantum leap forward? I mean compared to all we know of the ways of human tribes throughout history?
I am not suggesting we raise new statues of John A. McDonald, but those we have deserve to remain. We now view residential schools as a destructive force, destructive to family and culture, but for John McDonald, it was not just a reasonable decision for the time, but a big step forward.