First Nations victims of residential schools were not the only ones to speak up about the effects of systematic discrimination and abuse during two days of testimony at the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission (TRC) hearings held Monday and Tuesday at the Civic Centre.
Even though the schools were discontinued in 1996 and the federal government issued an official apology in 2007, as well as instituting a compensation program for the many surviving victims, the issue needs to be considered in a broader context, according to one Prince George-based expert on violent racism.
UNBC masters student Daniel Gallant, a reformed neo-Nazi skinhead, attended some of the hearings and believes residential school was institutionalized white supremacy, pointing to the descriptions of violence the victims themselves inflicted on other people when they collapsed into dysfunction later in life.
It was a condition described as far back as 1991 when Assembly of First Nations then-chief Phil Fontaine admitted to a national conference that he had been traumatically abused in a residential school and continued the cycle of violence himself.
"The victim becomes the victimizer," he said, "I can never apologize enough to all the people I've harmed."
Gallant said abuse simply fosters more abuse.
"The reason I would beat people up was to respond to the abuses I suffered," he explained. "When I saw [a certain family member] beating [certain loved ones], I felt connected to that person. They were suffering what I was suffering. So later when I would beat people up, I was feeling a connection to them. I was making them into someone just like me. Now they knew what I felt - we now had a connection."
Gallant warned that an under-appreciation of the stories and experiences of residential school victims by the rest of society not only sidesteps responsibility, it also fosters future atrocities.
"If we continue not using this information [the testimony at the hearings], it opens a climate of extremism. The mindset of extremism is actually very common; what is uncommon is the violence attached to it. But from this testimony we see that people in our own community are perfectly willing to do violence like that to people they think are vulnerable."
It is not enough to provide just a token compensation package and a forum for expression, said Gallant. Canadian children were taught for more than a century that Indians were inferior, that their social problems were their own fault, and that they were a burden to white society.
This still not only lives in the hearts of many modern Canadians, said Gallant, it is written into law. Federal legislation like the Indian Act and provincial legislation like the Child, Family and Community Services Act are still written and enforced on a foundation of aboriginal inferiority. It will take more than time to heal those wounds, it will take action, he said.