The time-tested Canadian art of apology
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Jan 30, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

The time-tested Canadian art of apology

St. Marys Journal Argus

St. Marys Journal Argus editorial

Many in the non-blood-doping public can, perhaps, sympathize with the difficult months and years ahead for disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong: Replacing the income he has lost in sponsorships; explaining to his children that, despite the fact they spent the last three grade levels adamantly defending their father to classmates, he did, indeed, used banned substances; facing the hard-working volunteers of his charity organization.

But most of the public, it appears, is finding it difficult to accept Armstrong’s highly-orchestrated Oprah Winfrey Network apology as 100 per cent genuine. Through his highly ego-driven nature he did, after all, leave many emotional scars in his wake.

The apology, it seems, is a difficult art form to perfect.

Mitch Miyagawa is someone who knows all about apologies. His father is Japanese-Canadian and was sent to an internment camp during the Second World War. His mother’s second marriage is to a Chinese-Canadian man whose grandfather paid a head tax for his son to enter Canada. And his father’s second marriage is to a survivor of the aboriginal residential school system. Miyagawa, from the Yukon, claims to be the product of the most-apologized-to family in Canada. And he has written an essay and created a documentary film – entitled “A Sorry State,” which received its world broadcast premiere on Jan. 9 on TVO – inspired by his thoughts about apologies.

In a recent interview with the Toronto Star, Miyagawa commented that “apologies are crazy because we do them all the time. We’re always getting an apology or saying one, for conflicts in our families, relationships or workplaces. Yet we never really think about how to do them well.”

Did the institutional apologies experienced by Miyagawa’s family have their intended outcomes?

Obviously, that’s a personal issue. But, as the drama of the Idle No More movement unfolds, led by calls for Aboriginal land claim resolutions and the elimination of third world living conditions on Canada’s reserves, it’s clear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s historic apology to Native Canadians for the disturbing legacy of the residential school system did not serve to miraculously make things right.

No one ever thought the apology would have such wide-ranging impact. But many people probably hoped it could signal an improvement of relations between Native Canadians and established governments.

Perhaps some of Miyagawa’s other comments in the Toronto Star provide insight into why that doesn’t seem to have happened.

“Meaningful apologies are really about a promise to the future, about actually changing,” the filmmaker offered. “It’s about the start of something new rather than closing up the past. It’s also about acknowledging a story. That has to happen for the apology to be meaningful.”

Was Lance Armstrong’s goal last week simply to “close the past?” If so, maybe that’s part of the reason why his apology seemed less than sincere.

Likewise, if the Canadian government hopes simply to close the past by asking Native Canadians to move into an era beyond historic land claims, it’s a dangerous path to tread. There must be some level of acknowledgement that, historically, many Aboriginal bands have been cheated by the Land Claim process.

Idle No More is watching. And, as disparate as the movement’s membership and leadership seems to be, it would be unwise to inspire additional anger in its ranks.

(S.S.)

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