When Senator Lynn Beyak suggested last year that the history of residential schools in Canada was something less than a horrific church-state orchestrated cultural “genocide”, she was widely condemned as ignorant and insensitive, even racist. When she published scores of letters on her website agreeing with her, including a handful tainted with bigotry, she became a total political pariah. But if anyone had taken the time to read all the letters, they would have found testimony from dozens of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians with direct and indirect experience of residential schools that collectively tell a very different story from the “genocide” version. Robert MacBain took the time.
Canadian self-described (but disputed) Aboriginal author Joseph Boyden and Tragic Hipster Gord Downie took the sad story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Ojibway boy who froze to death in northern Ontario in 1966, and turned it into a book, songs and videos that grotesquely distort the truth in order to demonize the history of the Canadian Indian residential schools system. Now it’s being taught to children in schools across Canada. Robert MacBain reports.
Historically illiterate vandals defaced a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Charlottetown. They think Macdonald was the architect of residential schools. But as Robert MacBain points out, church-run residential schools were established decades before Macdonald became Canada’s first prime minister.
Pierre Trudeau despised ethnic nationalism. He was contemptuous of its expression in Quebec’s separatist movement. And when the Aboriginal political leaders of his time demanded racially-segregated self-government, as prime minister he told them Canada would not let them have it without a serious – and perhaps bloody – fight. His son, current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, holds very different views. His government is promising “nation-to-nation” negotiations to formalize race-based Aboriginal self-government. On this issue, writes Robert MacBain, the apple has fallen a long way from the tree.