בובות ונעליים לזכר הקורבנות במדרגות שליד הגלריה לאמנות בוונקובר (רוני רחמני)
שרידיהם של 215 ילדים, חלקם היו בגיל שלוש בלבד, נמצאו בפרובינציית בריטיש קולומביה, במקום שבו ניצב בעבר בית ספר גדול. במוסד זה קובצו בני קהילות האינדיאנים שהופרדו בכוח ממשפחותיהם ברחבי המדינה – במטרה להטמיע אותם באוכלוסייה הקנדית הכללית. ההודעה על מציאת השרידים זכתה לפרסומים נרחבים בכל העולם, אחרי שהם התגלו לפני כשבועיים בסיוע מכ”ם חודר-קרקע. מומחים אומרים כי גופות נוספות עשויות להימצא, משום שבאותו האזור נותרו שטחים נוספים שהיו שייכים לבית הספר ושטרם נערך בהם חיפוש.
התגלית הקשה שנחשפה היא עדות לזוועות שחוללו ממשלת קנדה והכנסייה הקתולית לעשרות אלפי תלמידים, שהשתייכו לקהילות האינדיאנים מאז המאה ה-19 ועד לשנות ה-70 של המאה העשרים. למעלה מ-150 אלף ילדים שהשתייכו לקהילות האלה נדרשו באותן שנים לעזוב את משפחותיהם ולעבור ללמוד בפנימיות נוצריות במימון המדינה הקנדית. זאת, כחלק מתוכנית שנועדה להטמיע אותם בחברה הכללית. הילדים אולצו להמיר את דתם לנצרות, לא הותר להם לדבר בשפת אבותיהם, ורבים מהם ספגו מכות והתעללויות מילוליות ופיזיות, בכלל זה התעללויות מיניות מצד מורים. לפי טענות עד 6,000 מהילדים מתו בבתי הספר האלה.
בית הספר שבאדמתו נמצאו השרידים שהוכרזו לפני כשבועיים שוכן ליד העיר קמלופס שבקולומביה הבריטית, והוא היה הגדול מבין 139 בתי הספר המיוחדים שהוקמו בשלהי המאה ה-19 לצורך הטמעת בני האינדיאנים. בכל זמן נתון שהו בו עד 500 תלמידים. הוא הופעל על-ידי הכנסייה הקתולית בשם ממשלת קנדה מ-1890 ועד שנסגר ב-1969.
פרסום הפרשה עורר תגובות נרגשות במערכת הפוליטית הקנדית. ראש ממשלת קנדה, ג’סטין טרודו, מסר כי הגילוי, שאותו הגדיר “מטריד”, שובר את לבו: “זו תזכורת כואבת לפרק אפל ומביש בתולדות ארצנו”, אמר טרודו. ראש ממשלת בריטיש קולומביה, ג’ון הורגן, הצהיר כי הוא “נחרד ושבור לב” בעקבות הגילוי של שרידי הגופות, וכינה זאת “טרגדיה בממדים שאי-אפשר לדמיין”. הוא אמר כי הגילוי הזה מדגיש את האלימות וההשלכות הקשות של הפנימיות שבהן שוכנו בני האינדיאנים.
ממשלת קנדה כבר התנצלה כבר באופן רשמי בשנת 2008 על הסבל הקשה שחוו בני האינדיאנים בבתי הספר המיוחדים שהמדינה הקימה לצורך הטמעתם, והודתה כי ההתעללויות הפיזיות והמיניות בבתי הספר מהסוג הזה היו תופעה נפוצה. רבים מהתלמידים לשעבר העידו כי הוכו רק משום שדיברו את שפת אבותיהם, ורבים מהם גם איבדו קשר עם הוריהם והתנתקו ממנהגיהם. מנהיגי קהילות האינדיאנים טענו לאורך השנים כי מסורת ההתעללויות והבידוד של הילדים האלה, היא הסיבה הראשית לשיעורים הגבוהים של עוני, אלימות, התאבדויות והתמכרויות לאלכוהול ולסמים בקהילותיהם.
בדוח מיוחד שפורסם לפני יותר מחמש שנים על ידי ועדת האמת והפיוס, נקבע כי לפחות 3,200 ילדים מתו כשהם סובלים מהתעללות והזנחה. לא ברור אם הילדים ששרידיהם נמצאו כעת נמנים עם הילדים שמותם כבר תועד. או שקרוב לוודאי שמציאת שדירי הילדים פירושה המעשי הוא שמספר המתים הרשמי גדול ממה שהיה ידוע עד כה. הטכנולוגיות החדישות שפותחו בשנים האחרונות מסייעות כעת בחיפושים אחרי קורבנות נוספים, ומנהלי החיפושים האלה מקווים שהתשובות שיעלו בהם יעזרו למשפחות לסגור מעגל.
ממשלת קנדה כבר הסכימה בעבר לפצות את התלמידים של קהילות האינדיאנים שהופרדו ממשפחותיהם, על השנים שבהן אולצו לשהות בפנימיות האפלות. לאחר שוועדת האמת והפיוס הגדירה את מה שעברו התלמידים האינדיאנים רצח עם תרבותי, החליטה הממשלה להקציב לפיצוי הילדים והמשפחות שלהם קרוב לשני מיליארד דולר.
Sam Steinfeld works with Royal Winnipeg Ballet apprentice Jesse Petrie. He is traveling with the ballet on their current tour, which arrives in Vancouver April 7. (photo by Amy Simoes)
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is currently making its way across Western Canada and will present the Vancouver première of Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation at Queen Elizabeth Theatre April 7-9.
Commissioned by RWB, with support from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Going Home Star was first performed in Winnipeg in 2014, as part of RWB’s 75th season. Conceived by RWB artistic director André Lewis and the late Cree elder Mary Richard, the ballet was created by novelist Joseph Boyden, choreographer Mark Godden and composer Christos Hatzis. It features the music of Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq, and Steve Wood and the Northern Cree Singers.
Traveling with the ballet is physiotherapist Sam Steinfeld, who spoke to the Independent during the company’s bus ride to Brandon, Man., the tour’s first stop.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Steinfeld graduated from the University of Manitoba. He did a science degree and considered doing a master’s in physiology but, between the poor job prospects for science grads at the time and a friend who was finishing up his training in physiotherapy, Steinfeld decided to change his path.
After his training, he worked in a hospital setting for several years before going into private practice. He has been a consultant to professional sport teams in Winnipeg, including the Jets and the Fury, and, in 1998, he started working with RWB. He also teaches for the Neuro Orthopedic Institute, which is based in Australia.
Steinfeld has been a physiotherapist for more than 35 years. “Every day’s a little different,” he said. “There are always new challenges, especially working in an environment like this, with the ballet and going on tour. It’s one thing when you’re working, say, in your clinic or at home and in the ballet’s clinic, things are a little more predictable. But, when you’re on the road, you never know what you’re going to encounter … that, for me, keeps it interesting. Certainly working with different people, too, the different dancers we’ve had over the years, different clients. Everybody brings their own way of managing and dealing with their injuries, and you have to be able to adapt and work with those people and find ways to get them going again.”
It’s never the same, he said. “Treating two ankle sprains doesn’t necessarily mean you approach them in the same way, for instance, just because of the individual or what the individual’s going to have to do.”
There are two physiotherapists who work with RWB – the other is Kevin Dyck – and the two split up the tours, said Steinfeld. When in Winnipeg, Steinfeld is at the ballet’s clinic Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and evenings, and Dyck works the other hours Monday to Friday. For shows in the city, they try to divide the time at the concert hall evenly.
“We’re looking after not just the company, but we look after the professional division students of the RWB school,” explained Steinfeld. “I’m treating the recreational division students, as well, and we look after all the administrative staff, the teachers, the stage crew that works for us. We’re responsible for all those people.”
Dancers don’t generally get injured during a performance, he said. “Most of the injuries we see are overuse things and, usually, with some modification of activity, some treatment, we can keep them going. Our main thing is to make sure they’re going to be safe and we work closely with the ballet masters and artistic director. If we feel somebody can still perform but perhaps in a lesser role, or modify their choreography somewhat, they’re good at adapting things for the dancer and are able sometimes to keep somebody in. But there are always situations where somebody just can’t do it, period, because of the nature of their injury or the severity of it. Then we have to work around that, and that sometimes means somebody else picking up an extra part or, if we’re on the road, bringing somebody from Winnipeg out to meet us and take over that part.”
Every physical activity stresses the body in a unique way. When he started working with the ballet, he said, “it became quickly apparent that I was working with artistic athletes and I had to learn more about dance and the technique and what’s involved and how they work because, in order to make decisions about whether it’s safe for someone with an injury to return, I have to understand what it is they’re doing.”
Compared to hockey or soccer, for example, dancers – and especially those who do pointe work – have more “forefoot and ankle problems that you don’t normally see, say, in a hockey player who wears a skate,” said Steinfeld. A foot doesn’t move much inside of a skate. However, he said, “you look at a dancer in a pointe shoe and the load they’re putting on their foot, and the very different way they load their foot, right through their toes, for instance, when they’re on pointe, is unique…. So, we’ll see more things like stress fractures in the foot, metatarsal stress fractures or mid-foot stress fractures, certainly more mid-foot and forefoot sprains and that sort of thing that you don’t often see in something like hockey. You might see them in soccer, though, with the amount of running.”
Steinfeld is the son of Holocaust survivors who came to Canada three years after the war. He has two older brothers.
“My parents set an amazing example in terms of their ability to overcome adversities, how they dealt with other people and … how they still had a lot of positive feelings towards other people. I think that helped me in terms of my development as a person and, ultimately, as a caregiver, in … having a little more empathy with people when they’re in trouble and understanding that, with hard work and perseverance, you can overcome a lot of adversities…. The courage they showed in starting a life anew after everything they’d been through, I think it all trickled down to myself, my brothers. I’m quite proud of that as far as my Jewish upbringing.”
Working with the ballet was never in his career plans, he said. “I actually went in there to replace the therapist who was ill and I was only supposed to work for about four or six weeks there, till this person came back. It turned out, unfortunately, they weren’t able to return to work, so the ballet said to me, do you want to carry on with us and I said OK, and here I am, 18 years later.”
Steinfeld said he is fortunate to have understanding colleagues and that the other physiotherapists in his practice help absorb his caseload when he travels with the ballet. He also voiced appreciation for his family’s tolerance of his absences and their support of his work. “I’ve been a lucky guy, I think, to have had this opportunity,” he said.
Steinfeld’s wife, Karen, is also a physiotherapist – she specializes in hands and the upper extremities, and he’ll sometimes confer with her. Their two daughters are now adults, the oldest is a cardiac surgery resident in Winnipeg and the youngest is a lawyer in Ottawa.
Going Home Star is at Queen E April 7-9, at 8 p.m., with pre-show talks at 7 p.m. Ticket are $29 to $89 and can be purchased from ticketmaster.ca or 1-855-985-ARTS (2787).
The Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society will honor Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, on Jan. 17. (photo from Jack P. Blaney Awards, Simon Fraser University)
The release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report last year was a turning point in the relationship between Canada and its aboriginal peoples. It is part of a longer and ongoing trajectory of healing, according to Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, who is being honored this weekend as a courageous civic leader.
The Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society was founded by members of the local Jewish and Swedish communities, including the honorary Swedish consul, to recognize individuals who help others at great risk to themselves. Joseph, hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation on northern Vancouver Island, is the recipient of this year’s Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award.
Joseph is ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, an organization intended to “revitalize the relationships among indigenous peoples and all Canadians,” and a member of the National Assembly of First Nations Elders Council.
“At significant personal risk and after facing severe oppression, Chief Dr. Robert Joseph courageously stood up against social injustice to help others,” notes the award citation. “As a residential school survivor, he courageously chose to publicly share his story and the consequences of the abuse and trauma he had endured. This was at a time when the indigenous community was conflicted about bringing the experiences in the residential schools to light and when the larger community was in denial about what happened. Chief Dr. Robert Joseph chose to turn his experience into a vehicle for healing through reconciliation and a will to make sure that this would never happen again.”
In an interview with the Independent, Joseph discussed the progress toward healing his community has made in recent decades.
“Our First Nations people were absolutely in deep despair, not understanding what had happened to us over the course of all that time that residential schools existed,” he said. “But, in the last 20 years, we’ve made remarkable, remarkable progress. And one of the breakthroughs in all of that was survivors like myself began to feel confident enough to tell our stories. We had been walking around in deep shame and despair and brokenness and suddenly we found a way to begin to tell our story.”
A crucial first step, he said, was the federal government’s 1998 Statement of Reconciliation. Though the statement itself was equivocal and not universally appreciated, Joseph said, it was accompanied by funds for survivors and resources for the affected communities.
“I was part of the movement because I was executive director for the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, which was the only organization of its kind at the time,” he said. “So, we began to hold meetings and circles where circles of survivors began to tell their stories and it was deeply, deeply liberating.”
The process expanded, he said, to include representatives of the churches who were complicit in the schools system and later the government and other Canadians.
“We began to recognize that indeed there is a common humanity that exists between all of us and if we can’t harness that common humanity, we’re going to always have these atrocities going on around the world,” he said. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a culmination of that progress and Joseph is uplifted by the response of Canadians since the report’s release last year.
“We’ve had a tremendous interest and response from many Canadians about their desire to reconcile,” he said. Even so, the impact of the report was double-edged, he said.
“When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was submitted in June, it said that because of a whole number of initiatives and policies, Canada had created, impacted, effected a cultural genocide against the aboriginal people of this country,” he explained. “For me, even as I sat and listened to that, it was sort of a bittersweet report. On the one hand, all of our suffering had been acknowledged and identified in this report. But, on the other hand, as a country together, you and I and everyone who are Canadians were told that genocide was a part of our history.”
He added that he is humbled to receive the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award, which is named in honor of Raoul Wallenberg and Chiune Sugihara, diplomats who, during the Second World War, risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis.
“I’m really moved by the idea that people who suffered huge indignities, human suffering, who have been through it all like no one else has before, are thinking that somebody as little as I am can be acknowledged by them,” Joseph said.
As he prepares to receive his award, the chief said he is optimistic that Canada is at a crossroad.
“We are so blessed in this country,” he said. “We have all of the rainbow and color of the human race here and we have a chance to engage with each other, to nurture our relationships, to embrace our differences and indeed celebrate them.… But it calls us to our highest order as Canadians to be all that we can be in treating each other with respect and dignity because there is nothing more important than respect and dignity. I think that we are on the right path.”
Joseph will receive his award at an event on Sunday, Jan. 17, at 1:30 p.m., in the Wosk Auditorium at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. The ceremony will be followed by the screening of the film Carl Lutz: The Forgotten Hero, about a Swiss diplomat in Budapest who saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazis.
On Nov. 18, Robbie Waisman spoke at the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia. (photo by Pat Johnson)
The head of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is crediting Robbie Waisman, a Vancouver man and a child survivor of Buchenwald concentration camp, with making a significant impact on the work of the landmark national initiative.
Justice Murray Sinclair, the first Aboriginal judge appointed to the Provincial Court of Manitoba, headed the commission that handed down its report earlier this year. It is a compendious study of the legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada, with recommendations for redress. Over the course of a century, an estimated 30% of Aboriginal children in Canada were taken from their family homes and placed in residential schools. Funded by the federal government and run by Christian churches, the schools forbade children from speaking their native languages. Countless numbers were physically and sexually abused, even murdered, starved to death or died from lack of medical attention. Of the estimated 150,000 children who went through the system, 4,000 are believed to have died. Survivors have struggled for decades with the legacies of the experience. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was the first comprehensive nationwide effort to address the history.
Sinclair told the Independent that Waisman made a crucial suggestion that informed the work of the commission. It can be extremely difficult for survivors to tell their stories directly to their children, Waisman told Sinclair. He himself did not tell his own children about his experiences in the Holocaust; they learned some of the details by witnessing their father tell his history to others. The commission took this advice to heart, said Sinclair.
“Based on that, when we go to a community, we bring all the [residential school] survivors in and we always make a point to bring their children in so that when the survivors are talking to us, the children are hearing them,” Sinclair said. “That proved to be an exceptionally strong piece of advice for us to open the lines of communication within families. From the perspective of residential school survivors, often the most important process of reconciliation that they wanted to engage in, that they needed to engage in, was to apologize to their own families for how they behaved after residential schools and to be given an act of forgiveness by their children, their spouses, their family members.”
Waisman participated in the entire TRC process, traveling to every part of Canada to speak with residential school survivors about his own story of survival and about creating a life after experiencing the most unimaginable horrors.
“I told them that I am one of the 426 teenagers that was liberated at Buchenwald,” Waisman explained. “We couldn’t go home, we went to France and, in France, the experts that analyzed us told the French government that these kids, first of all, won’t amount to anything because they’ve seen too much and they’ll never rehabilitate. Get a Jewish organization to look after them, they told the French government. Number two, they won’t live beyond 40. So here we are. Six years ago, I phoned [Nobel laureate and fellow Buchenwald survivor] Elie Wiesel, who wasn’t going to amount to anything, and I wished him a happy 80th. And little Lulek [Yisrael Meir Lau], who became chief rabbi of Israel. This is what I related to them. You see what we have achieved? So, then I quote [Barack] Obama: ‘We did it … yes you can.’”
On Nov. 18, Waisman spoke at the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia about his experience in the Holocaust and about participating in the TRC.
Waisman has been involved with First Nations communities for years. He was first contacted by Canadian Jewish Congress when David Ahenakew, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, uttered antisemitic comments in 2002. CJC engaged with First Nations leaders and brought Waisman to meet with them. Waisman’s relationship with CJC goes back further – as an orphaned child survivor, he was sponsored to come to Canada by CJC.
Because of his effectiveness as a speaker, Waisman was invited to speak to residential school survivors in the Northwest Territories. As he spoke, he noticed maybe a dozen people in booths, speaking into headphones. It turned out his words were being translated into local dialects and broadcast across the territories. A trip that was supposed be a daylong in-and-out turned into a four-day sojourn as residential school survivors came from surrounding villages to meet him.
“They figured that nobody cared,” said Waisman. “Many of them have begun to talk about their horrors after they listen to me.”
Sinclair is full of warm words for Waisman. “He’s a stalwart supporter and a warm and kind and loving man who always understood what the survivors were talking about and let them know that,” said the judge.
Tonight, the Canada Palestine Association, BDS Vancouver, Canadian Boat to Gaza, Independent Jewish Voices and a few other groups will come together to address the topic Stolen Land: First Nations and Palestinians at the Frontline of Resistance. The obvious intention is to equate the history of colonial settlement in North America, Canada in particular, with the actions of Israel toward Palestinians.
The concept is flawed at its core, of course, because, as the Palestinian narrative often does, it portrays the Jews as colonial occupiers of Arab land, while denying the legitimacy of ancient and modern claims to the Jewish homeland. The logical failure here is that such a narrative recognizes the legitimacy of a 200-year-old land claim, but not a 2,000-year-old land claim, which seems like an arbitrary position.
Nevertheless, there is a larger issue here. The anti-Israel movement insists on appropriating the historical experience of other people and using it in an attempt to fortify their narrative. The most obvious example is the apartheid libel, which tries to paint Israel as the ideological descendant of South African racism. This is offensive not only to Israelis. It debases the experience of black South Africans who suffered from genuine apartheid.
Even more egregiously, the anti-Israel movement routinely uses the imagery of Nazism and the Holocaust against Israel, attempting to equate the victims of the Third Reich with its perpetrators. This deliberate rubbing of salt in Jewish historical wounds is common and, as we discussed in this space last week, the objective is clearly to inflict pain rather than to resolve grievances.
This is a deliberate strategy of the anti-Israel movement, which apparently finds its difficult to make a legitimate case of their own and, therefore, co-opts the historical experiences of others. As another example, last summer, when people in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in the United States were protesting police shootings of young African-Americans, the “pro-Palestinian” movement attempted to infiltrate that movement as well, trying to portray Israeli soldiers and police in the same light as American killer cops.
The event this week has a similar purpose. Not satisfied to let Canada’s First Nations people tell their stories and have their experiences validated, the “pro-Palestinian” activists want to elbow their way in and demand that Palestine get equal time (at least).
An infinitely more constructive approach can be seen in the remarkable story of a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who traveled across Canada as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, sharing his story of survival and accomplishment after tragedy. (See the story “Survivors helps others.”)
There are ways to positively advance First Nations experiences, the Palestinian experience and the Jewish experience in order to create a more understanding and tolerant world. The organizers of this week’s event – and the anti-Israel movement more broadly – do not seem interested in that sort of progress, in that sort of world.