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Jack Healey

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Human Rights Day and Indigenous People of Winnipeg

Posted: 12/10/11 11:25 AM ET

On Dec. 10, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), I usually write a blog regarding human rights across the globe and how we people of the earth are being treated by our governments. This year, however, I want to focus on a single national issue. This issue came to me in a surprising way, namely, a documentary by two young German film makers about an old friend of mine and what he does each day for his fellow aboriginal peoples. His name is Larry Morrisette and he works in the north end of Winnipeg, Canada. The film is called We Will Be Free by Max Fabian Meis and Ferdinand Carrière of Downsideup Film Productions.

With their own money, Max and Ferdinand produced a film that highlights the present day woes and struggles of indigenous people of Winnipeg. In very simple and powerful images of the Canadian people and its physical beauty, the film captures the need for the attention of the Canadian government to do more for the indigenous people who live in their cities. Why this need? The answer is simple. Residential schools, which lasted until 1996, did irreparable harm to many and that damage still exists today in the major cities of Canada.

The raw and violent past of residential schools literally stole aboriginal children away from their parents' homes and stuck them in new and unsettling homes. Canadian law permitted and allowed these residential schools to exist and prosper and do serious damage to those who had to endure them.

An opening hearing of the grievances should be held so that the victims of these schools get a chance to tell their own stories in whatever language they wish. This issue might qualify as one of the first panels/seminars that the new museum for human rights in Winnipeg sets up. The issue sounds small, but in fact looms terribly large if you speak to those who attended these schools.

In these, often Catholic, schools the children were stripped of their language, their culture, their customs, their parents and their community. Away from their parents and their community, the children suffered from abuse of all kinds. The schools' goals were to integrate the aboriginal peoples into the population by removing all things Indian from their person. New music. New dances. New language. New friends. Nothing old and aboriginal was to survive.

Of course, those intrusions failed and many of these children, now adults, live in the cities of Canada, (as well as on the old Indian Reserves in the rural areas). Obviously, given that background, there are serious problems in these communities. Yesterday's mistakes do live on. Thus, some attention and programs by the Canadian government are needed to address this former wrong and their disastrous results.

The film uses the person and work of Larry Morrisette to highlight the problem and solutions of this struggle. The film is 60 minutes and speaks much like Larry; slow and serious and heart felt. The simplicity of the film captures the viewer as does the striking beauty of Canada's animals and lakes. The film is really about freedom and human rights and how correcting the past is possible and necessary.

Human Rights Day of 2011 will be celebrated in a new museum dedicated to human rights in Winnipeg. The Prime Minister might use this opportunity to address this historical damage to the indigenous peoples by announcing a new program for the city folk that had the misfortune to go to these reservation schools. This action would bring solace and comfort to those whose lives were thrown into chaos by living in a strange community attempting to integrate them into Canadian society by destroying anything Indian about them. An action like that by the Prime Minister would go along way of celebrating the opening of the new museum as well as offering the urban indigenous people a way to remain Indian and still be solid citizens of Canada.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was actually hand written by John Humphrey, a Canadian. He and Eleanor Roosevelt, the architect of the UDHR passage, would surely welcome a good look into the damage caused by these residential schools of aboriginal peoples of Canada. But the real reason to do so is that a governmental effort is needed for urban aboriginal people of Canada. This film 'We will be free' tells the story in simple and powerful narrative by the indigenous people themselves. With or without Canadian government help, they will be free. The Canadian government will not be free unless it does something in the urban areas of Canada to address this old and serious human rights abuse.