They meant well, but sometimes meaning well does not mean well-being.
I was presented this week with two contradictory images. One was of a sculpture representing the work done by Catholic nuns in Alberta. It is called Service Through Christ and is by the artist Herman Poulin.
The press release from Covenant Health says: “The monument recognizes the congregations of catholic sisters who “helped found the province, providing health care, education and social services to pioneering communities.” It shows a nun holding a piece of stained glass representing the sisters’ desire not to be in the forefront.
I saw that sculpture on Sunday and on Monday I was confronted by a startlingly contradictory image. It is of children being taken from their homes by representatives of the Catholic church and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
I saw on Twitter a comment by the Canadian businesswoman Arlene Dickinson where she wrote: “[I] just learned that when Cree children attending a residential school would briefly see their parents, the Cree word they used to describe it was “kiskinwahamctowikamik” which translates to “A building you go to learn to cry,” and @lindaws responded by posting this picture by Kent Monkman called The Scream.
The McGill University website explains:
“The Scream references the fact that for over one hundred years of Canada’s 150-year history, Indigenous children were taken (often forcefully) from their parents. Ostensibly in the name of education (Residential School), but what is now understood to have been a way to disrupt family relationships and break up language knowledge and cultural continuity. Of this system, Sir John A. MacDonald stated, “Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”
The nuns provided education to indigenous children, but it was not accomplished easily and it was not appreciated by the recipients. The Catholics teachers may not have wanted to be in the forefront, but they caused a lot of anguish that has been passed through generations. They taught children to cry.