Truth and Reconciliation – what we didn’t learn in school

©2001 Marion Pennell

©2001 Marion Pennell

Here are excerpts from the introduction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final document (

For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.”
Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.
In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.

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You Have To Be Taught

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote a heart-wrenching song for their musical South Pacific in 1949.

My mom loved South Pacific.  She was born in a harbour of a bay of the North Atlantic.

©2006 Marion Pennell

©2006 Marion Pennell

My mom was the least racist or prejudiced person I have ever known.  Her father was a bigot, in the typical way of his generation (he was born in the tail end of the 19th century).  In the 1970s, in the hospital, dying, she told me he didn’t want any black nurses to attend to him.  I thought, lucky for the black nurses that they didn’t have to attend to such a grumpy verbally-abusive patient. Continue reading


squirrells My mom was born in 1924, but she never saw a squirrel until 1949.

The island of Montreal has lots of squirrels, the island of Newfoundland had none until someone introduced the species in 1963.  Mom and dad (and big brother) came to Montreal c. 1949, soon after voting for Confederation.

As a family, we bought our first house in 1959 (coinciding with the family expansion of my birth, and my newly widowed paternal Granny’s arrival).  The suburb where we settled, Pointe Claire, had some of the biggest fattest healthiest grey squirrels I have ever seen.

As an infant in our backyard (I suppose this must have been the summer of 1960? perhaps my first few summers?) I am told I was delighted to be playing with multiple squirrels in my playpen.  Mom told the story as if the squirrels were so numerous you would have to shoo them away from your house and your children. Continue reading