How do we want to be defined - our time to be both humane and noble is here now

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

July 2nd, 2021



What do people mean when they say “that is a defining characteristic”?

What defines Burlington?  Is it the geography – the lake and the Escarpment?

At this time in our history what is it that defines Canada?

I want to suggest that the way Canadians respond to the news of yet another place where the bodies of children have been buried  and what we as a people are going to do about it is what will define this country for decades.

unmarked graves

There are several hundred grave sites like this in Canada

In this country people expect the leadership to make the big decisions.  We have given the power we have to the leaders hoping that they will do the right thing for us.

The tragedy brought about by the creation of the Residential Schools is now in front of us with all the ugliness that neglect heaps on us when we treat one group of people as worth less than the rest of us.

Some 150,000 children were trucked off to Residential Schools with no consent from the parents.  People just came and took them.

Those children who did eventually return to their communities years later, were deeply scarred emotionally, some physically abused, and left unable to cope with daily living.

We are learning now that many thousands did not return but were placed in shallow graves that were unmarked.

The Aboriginal community knew about those graves but no one wanted to listen to a “bunch of Indians”.

Now we all know and decisions have to be made about what we are going to do about it.

The Aboriginal community is pressing the Pope to come to Canada and apologize for the harm that was done and to make restitution as well or at least to live up to the financial contribution all of the religious organizations who operated the Residential Schools agreed to provide.

The federal government has agreed to provide the millions that will be needed to search the grounds of every Residential School to learn if and how many children are laying in shallow graves.

shoes on steps

This just isn’t enough.

How long will the public place pairs of shoes on steps of buildings as a show of support?

Is this just a fad that will pass soon?

The weekly release of yet another grave site will keep this on the public radar for the Aboriginal community who knows they have an issue that has legs.


Gord Downie did what few of us could so – screamed that the Aboriginal people mattered.

How many remember what Gord Downie had to say to the Prime Minister who was in the audience for that heart rending performance when he asked Justin Trudeau to keep the promise?  That’s been the problem, we Canadians have never kept the promise – we instead jerked them around again and again.

Are we finally at the point where that basic, human fundamental right for water that can be swallowed might be theirs the way it is ours?  Or are we stuck at the placing of shoes in public places to show our support.

There is an opportunity to show the world what we have done.  We have this opportunity to determine how we are defined.

My question to each person reading this is – how do you want to be defined?


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5 comments to How do we want to be defined – our time to be both humane and noble is here now

  • Mozelle Cole

    Thank you Pepper for touching on a very delicate subject. You have asked several questions of us.
    What defines Burlington – the people.
    What defines Canada – freedom.
    How do I want to be defined – compassionate.
    I have wondered for years why, in this day and age, anyone should not have safe drinking water. The conditions are appalling and the government should, by now, realize that whatever it had/has in place is not working. Instead of going to Mars we should be looking after the Earth -starting with our own people.
    The shoes show our support and compassion, almost like attending a funeral. You are correct, in that they will get rained on and eventually be removed. Flags will go back up. What then?
    In my opinion… Canadian history and how the government is run should be taught in school. Understanding from a young age how your country is run and being a part of the plan is huge. Voting should be compulsory (armed with knowledge). Then we are all accountable. New legislation (that works) should be drafted – by a third party.
    We must learn from errors of the past generations and ensure that they do not reoccur in our lifetime. Vandalizing statues is not going to solve a problem – Laws of the land and adherence.
    I read a lengthy paper written by Dr. Scott Hamilton. It helped me put a few thing into perspective. (
    In the old days there were no Smiths Funeral Homes. Diseases were rampant. Protestants and Catholic missionaries set up hospitals, schools, churches (as they do today). The Canadian Government/Indian Affairs Department took over… I am appalled by the atrocities. My heart goes out to the families.
    This is not an easy fix. Throwing money at a problem does not solve it (as we have seen).
    Anger and violence over history will also not solve anything. Neither will burning churches. That will mean hundreds of people will not get their hot meal which they rely on today.

  • Thank you for asking this question and hope you will get a myriad answers. Our response is not how we want to be defined but how we must be defined at this time in Canada’s history. We must be defined as a nation who insist all our leaders respect and serve the needs of all who call this land home above their own political aspirations and when they fail to keep their promises to serve as they shoudl or act in any way that supports behaviours that are outside rule of law they must resign. We must have the means to hold our leaders accountable which our files show we do not have right now.. Our files show it is too easy to bury the truth and keep it buried . However, we believe this nation is waking up to it’s responsibilities and we must never lose sight of the difference a day can make. It took one day for the wall to come down between East and West Germany in answer to years of thousand of prayers.. History has proved every wall eventually falls. Some sooner than others but we believe now is the time for the walls of injustice that bring harm to all Canada’s vulnerable no matter their colour, creed, age or income must fall. A nation that works to that end is how we musg be defined.

  • g.fraser

    ‘How many remember what Gord Downie had to say to the Prime Minister who was in the audience for that heart rending performance when he asked Justin Trudeau to keep the promise?’ This is the problem……………….the current and past gov’ts have kept very few promises to the indigenous people and ‘We The People’ have NOT held them accountable!! It is appalling the these political mouth pieces keep on lying and we keep putting them into power.

    The average Canadian did not know the full history of the Residential Schools & the atrocities committed there. Why did we hide this part of our history in our Public School Curriculum?? We learned about the Magna Carta and Samuel de Champlain. About the war of 1812, WWI and WW2 but almost nothing about the original habitants of this country and certainly less than NOTHING about the Residential Schools. I was shocked to learn the last Residential school closed in 1997!! This is mind boggling. Who in the gov’t &/or the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs allowed this to perpetuate till 1997!! Who thought this was OK!! These were children for goodness sake.

    Is the gov’t so full of incompetent politicians/bureaucrats that they do NOT understand that nothing can be kept a secret. In this computer age, all secrets come to light!! This is also true for the Catholic Church.

    So, change the Public School board curriculum and educate our population about the Residential Schools and tell the truth about how this country called Canada came into existence. For good or bad, tell the truth about the Fathers of Confederation. Only in learning and facing our collective past can we take responsibility and learn from our mistakes and become better Canadians.

    Commit to change and DO it!! For my full life I have heard about the people of the Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwest Ontario and their need of bottle water due to mercury poisoning. This after the government allowed a pulp mill to dump 10 tons of waste into their waters in the 1960s. We have the ability, we have the military engineers, we have the moral onus to FIX this by the end of 2022. We don’t need more studies, more focus groups, more lawyers, more political lies, more CLOSED door gov’t meetings. JUST DO IT!


  • perryb

    We are also facing a problem of “two solitudes”. On the one hand, we have a lot of the public who have suddenly become aware of the existence of this century-long tragedy of residential schools and (since they have not received a proper education including history, and have a limited attention span anyway) want to take ‘action’ so they can move on to something else. On the other hand, we have governments at all levels who know full well that there are archives of their own which document countless decisions over the years to explicitly avoid taking action (on all kinds of things like water quality, unceded lands, and more). It is convenient to blame the churches and make apologies and promise restitutions; but it’s quite another matter to face up to years of deliberate governmental inaction. It will take true leadership to unwind this mess, which is sadly lacking at the moment.

  • Phillip Wooster

    “Our time to be both human and noble is here now.” Well said, Pepper, but is it possible? To get to that point we have to be able to listen to each other, respect each other, and act in concert with our words. Unfortunately, we live in a time when Canadians are increasingly divided, in which we don’t talk to each other, we shout past each other, when our actions do not meet our self-serving rhetoric.

    Members of the Aboriginal community have good reason to feel marginalized and disrespected. For many years, I visited my best friend’s cottage at Hope Bay. The eastern half of Hope Bay Road went into the Cape Croker Reserve and on this land were some 70 cottages; the Reserve Band wanted to control the rental income from these properties but Indian Affairs in a bureaucratic affront had refused to allow it. In January 2007, the Band closed their portion of Hope Bay Road and denied access to these properties. Nothing changed. Why? I found it fundamentally disrespectful to not allow the Chippewas of Nawash to fully control and develop their own unceded territory. Recently, these cottages had to be demolished.

    For over 50 years we have known about mercury pollution on the Grassy Narrows Reserve but nothing has been done despite the debilitating effects of mercury poisoning. Had this happened in a town in southern Ontario do you think we would have been waiting 50 years? But when protesters showed up at a Liberal fundraiser, Trudeau mocked them by thanking them for their cheque–this was not respectful. Similarly, we can promise to provide clean drinking water on the Reserves—after how many years? And did the present government fully follow through? No–more disrespect.

    And now we are dealing with the tragedy at the Residential Schools, although it is not news. We have known about this for long years but just ignored it. Again no respect.

    And we certainly aren’t going to get to the point of having a full conversation with the Aboriginal nations in this country when churches and statues are being vandalized. In fairness, I doubt very much that the Aboriginal community is behind much of this vandalism but it is driving a wedge–I have to applaud Perry Bellegarde and Cowessess First Nation Chief Delorme, both of whom recognize that confrontation and vandalism are not constructive.

    Certainly we have reached a point in our history when the dialogue needs to be genuine, not to score political points, and concrete actions need to be taken to start healing the rifts. On this last point, I harken back to my grandfather in Yorkshire who frequently preached, “I may doubt what you say, but I believe what you do”.