June 12, 2008

Hamlet: Starring Stephen Harper as King Claudius?

There is a moment in Hamlet, the famous tragedy by Shakespeare, where Claudius is in his chapel begging for forgiveness for murdering King Hamlet and other wrong doings (Act III, scene 3). The fallacy for Claudius, obviously, is that while he may be remorseful he can't be truly forgiven since he is still willing to be king - the title he knew he would inherit after the murder. The point of that scene is that with apologies and forgiveness there is an expectation of consequences and actions. For Claudius, he would have been expected to give up his title and everything he had gained by being king.

For Harper, the long overdue apology has significant meaning for the First Nations peoples, however it's ultimately meaningless unless Harper is willing to commit to certain consequences and actions. First off, Harper's government has to finalize the commitment of financial restitution for the residential school victims. Most importantly, the social and mental health fallouts have to be addressed. Too many victims still suffer from their experiences and these have had an adverse effect on First Nations' communities in the process. These need to be made right or else this 'historic' apology is nothing more than words and a empty spectacle.

It's hard to say at this point what next move the Conservatives have planned - whether or not they will follow up the apology with actions. However, if the past is any indication, it may amount to nothing as the Conservatives trashed the Kelowna Accord, voted against the UN declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples and have consistently avoided dealing with the many problems that have come to light in the time the Conservatives have been in power. And then there is also the telling, double-speak filled interview that Pierre Poilievre gave that essentially diminished the supposed sincerity of Harper's apology, only to have Poilievre make his own 'apology' - likely since he got caught - because he screwed up the other apology. With this track record, it doesn't come as any surprise that there are many who are skeptical of Harper's intentions behind the apology.

If the skepticism has a basis in reality, it's no wonder that Harper's speech was much more formal and general while the Layton and Dion gave emotional and reflective speeches. If the Conservatives are not truly remorseful, it's also, in part, likely they do not truly understand the situation and its meaning to First Nations peoples. And that is why there are comments from Aboriginal such as this,

"They (Liberals and NDP) dug down deeper into the history of what happened. It seemed more sincere. I don't feel that Harper did that."

At the end of the play, King Claudius is killed by Hamlet but not before Hamlet is inflicted with with a mortal wound. There is a lesson there. If Harper's words are empty and are not followed up by action Canada may also be subject to a tragedy. Without action and real support Canada's First Nations communities will further degrade and eventually be beyond both saving and reconciliation. If that were to happen, there is little doubt that the government at the time, especially if it's Harper and the Conservatives, may take the fall but not before a mortal wound has been struck and Canada's Aboriginals are lost forever. And that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.

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Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)