An opinion piece written by Lakeland Today's Rob McKinley in the summer of 1999 when he was a reporter at the Lac La Biche POST — and a response from a reader the following week — focus on topics currently at the forefront of discussions over Canada Day and Indigenous history.
The viewpoint appeared in the June 22, 1999 Lac La Biche POST. The response appeared in the next edition of the POST on June 29, 1999.
At the time the opinion was written, the Town council of the day had not planned any 'local' Canada Day events. Councillors said they had overlooked the day unintentionally and by the time they realized, it was too late to book fireworks or entertainers. The Mission site was advertising its own Canada Day events. The location struck the opinion writer as troubling.
We thought readers might like to see the articles that are just over 22 years old — but pertain to ongoing issues — with messages that still hold true today.
Over two decades later, the 52 year old Rob McKinley firmly believe what the 29 year old Rob McKinley wrote. All these years later, as I've matured, I can also see the points behind the rebuttal from the reader a week later. No one is defending racism when they say we need to remember our past. We are only using those examples to teach others not to follow some of the terrible steps those who came before us took
As we experience more of life, we realize it's not all black and white, good or bad, left or right ... there's a really shaky middle ground that is very hard to stand on as well. But that's where we need to be.
Clearly, these issues aren't going away. They can't. They shouldn't. They are part of a stained history. Understanding is likely going to be the only way to find any balance on that shaky ground.
Transcribed from original published on June 22, 1999
Party site has dark history — June 22, 1999 — Lac La Biche POST
With Canada Day just around the corner planning for celebrations and parties is in full swing communities across the nation are planning get togethers family picnics fairs and fireworks.
In the town of Lac La Biche there's practically nothing all the stores will be closed there's no fireworks and no fun and games on the lush park in front of the civic building. There may be the unveiling of a statue to honour explorer David Thompson's arrival 200 years ago — but after that, nothing.
All the action in this community is taking place at the Lac La Biche Mission.
Located 10 kilometres west of town the Mission site is a national and provincial historic site. It's a beautiful setting with the lake old buildings grassy areas and parking for hundreds.
So what's wrong with that? Well, for most people, probably nothing unless of course you have your own memories or knowledge of the Mission and its operating days.
Canada Day festivities, the celebration of our country's unity reinforcing the pride Canadians cherish and honouring Canada's diverse mosaic of culture is to be held at a site where hundreds of Aboriginal people spent years having their culture wiped away. The Mission site housed a residential school where native children were sent to learn the European way. The plan was to “Civilize The Savages.” From the late 1800s, to times more recent than you might think, residential schools across the country took young children from their homes to be ‘educated.’
Many were not only mentally abused as their cultures were washed away, they were targets of physical and sexual abuses.
It may have happened a generation ago but for too many people it will never be forgotten or forgive. Even the federal government apologized for the treatment and assimilation practices at residential schools. Yet every Canada day as we pay homage to our country's history, we wave our flags on the site associated with some of the country's most inexcusable action. Don't expect me to be waving my red and white Maple Leaf flag so proudly at the site come July 1st.
Transcribed from original published on June 29, 1999
Canada Day at the Lac La Biche Mission
I would like to write in response to Mr. Rob McKinley’s viewpoint on the Lac La Biche Misison celebration “Party site has a dark history” opinion in Lac La Biche POST Tuesday June 22, 1999.
I would like to say first of all that I, and I am sure many citizens of Canada, share Mr Mckinley's sentiments. However what happened in the past has happened. We have no control on what happened in the past. But we can control our attitude toward what happened in the past.
While we may not forget the abuses done to innocent people in the past, I pray that we may learn to forgive. In many parts of the United States and Canada there are moves towards reconciliation. Attempts are being made to apologize for the injustices done through history in order that healing may come to those alive today.
The reconciliatory services are proving to be quite helpful and are bringing healing to many communities.
The members of the mission Historical Society are also attempting to bring about reconciliation between the people and groups of our community. And I think that they should be commended and encouraged in the endeavors .
I do not by any means want to trivialize the facts that children were unjustly abused in the residential schools. But not all that took place in the schools was bad period
I was at the Canada day celebrations at the mission last year. I recall one of the former students at the mission testify that he had stayed out of jail all his life because of the discipline education that he had received at the school the late Francis Ebersbach also told some positive things about the school.
I am implying that these are things worth celebrating about in this wonderful country of ours.
Having taken up citizenship from my native country of Africa, I am proud to be a Canadian. The need to reconcile and forgive the injustices of the past is crucial to the health of our communities. Furthermore, we would be leaving legacy not of hate but of love and compassion for the coming generation.
I pray that Rob McKinley would find a means in his heart to join in the move towards reconciliation forgive the sins of the past and come to celebrate with the rest of us.