We have a new National Holiday in Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Day, but like Remembrance Day, its not a party day but a day for reflection.
Now, I was born in Montreal, as were my parents, but all of my grandparents were born across the ocean. Growing up, most of my friends were the same, except one whose ancestors were United Empire Loyalists who had come north after failing to suppress the rebellion in the American colonies. When I got to college though, I met friends whose families had come to Quebec nearly 500 years earlier.
I was of course aware of the original inhabitants but had never actually met one until my navy days in the 70's on the West Coast, at a little place called Gibson's Landing. That meeting started as a confrontation with some rather angry and possibly under the influence, young men who were looking for revenge for some friends who had been beaten up a week ago. Once we'd explained that it hadn't been us and shared a few beers with them while chatting, they invited a couple of us to come along to a public celebration they were having and it was a great evening.
Now I live on the East Coast where first contact came over a thousand years ago with Viking settlements and trading coasts followed later by Basque fishing stations for salting cod and one of the the oldest permanent European settlements (Port Royal on the Bay of Fundy 1605) but it was only when I relocated to the shores of the Minas Basin that I started to meet some Mi'kmaq as individuals and members of my community. Even more surprising was when it came to light that the Mi'kmaq and Abenaki had never fully ceded Nova Scotia to the crown but had signed a treaty of friendship in 1752 in which they essentially agreed to share the land while maintaining their rights to hunt and fish and trade.
However, that's distant history. The main trigger for this day of reconciliation came late in the 19thC when our Federal Government passed a law requiring all Indian children to attend residential schools, paid for by the Federal government but run by various Christian churches. The intention appears to have been a desire to bring the first nations people more closely into Canadian society but whatever the intention was, the result was essentially an exercise in cultural genocide which also led to the deaths of thousands of children from disease aided by inadequate diets and abuse not to mention many long lasting mental and emotional problems. The stories that have started coming out from some of the survivors of the improved 20th C schools are at times horrific.
Sometime we forget how good some of us have it, or what harm people with good intentions can do.