Good Intent?

 

Recently, in southern B.C. First Nation of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced that the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of what used to be the site of Canada’s largest residential school. The school was closed in 1969 the year I attended first and second year university at the University of Manitoba. I just want to put this into context for me. I don’t think I am that old and this was not that long ago.

What I want to emphasize right now is that in Indian residential schools there were children taken from their homes to be “educated.”  Often this was against the will of the parents. We Canadians often think of ourselves as a kinder gentler version of our more powerful neighbours to the south. Many of us think that we took these children from their homes and into these schools to be educated.

 

Recently, the new Minister of Indigenous Affairs Alan Lagimodiere, who self-identifies as Métis,  got in big trouble, when he said, at his first press interview after being appointed, “The residential school system was designed to take Indigenous children and give them the skills and abilities they would need to fit into society as it moved forward…At the time, they really thought that they were doing the right thing.”  He was trying to say the designers of the system had good intentions. That caused the leader of the opposition Wab Kinew to take exception on behalf indigenous people and immediately brought numerous calls for him to resign.

The problem with that statement was that it just was not true. Many Canadians think that was the intent, but the evidence that has come out ever since the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 does not support that convenient assumption. Although many white people think children were brought to Indian residential schools to get educated, bu now, by now many people know that was a myth. It was a comfortable myth. Actually, we wanted them to become like us because we believed we were better than them. So, we thought. Assimilation we called it. it would be good for them. As the Truth and Reconciliation report explained, “Into the 1950s and 1960s the prime mission of residential schools was the cultural transformation of Aboriginal children.” Their main goal was not to educate children and give them the skills they needed to succeed in Canadian society. Their main goal was to turn the indigenous children into white children, or reasonable facsimiles. As J.E. Andrews who was the principal of the Presbyterian residential school in Kenora said, in 1953, about the time I was entering Kindergarten or Grade one, “we must face realistically the fact that the only hope for the Canadian Indian is eventual assimilation into the white race.”

Children shouldn’t often die in schools should they? When we now learn that this school had 215 bodies  buried outside it in unmarked graves. I admit I am presuming most of them were children. We don’t really know that yet. So far at least 2 other schools have made similar discoveries. Other communities of indigenous people are investigating. What possible explanation is consistent with a good intent? We wanted them to become civilized—like us.

We have to ask ourselves, who was civilized here? And who was not? When I think that we did it all to make indigenous people more like us, all I can say, is thank goodness we failed to do that.

Spiritual Violence Runs Deep

 

One of the things that fascinates me and attracts me to Indigenous spirituality is its deep connection to the land of North America. The connection to the land is felt intimately and profoundly. Europeans who came to this continent and often, as the Eagles said in their memorable song, ‘The Last Resort’, “raped the land,” did not understand that deep connection.  It was  completely foreign to them. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) Report, commented on this as follows,:

“Land, language, culture, and identity are inseparable from spirituality; all are necessary elements of a whole way of being, of living on the land as Indigenous peoples.”

Because of this deep connection between Indigenous spirituality and the land, the twin attacks by Europeans against both native land and native spirituality amplified the harm and the hurt them all the more. One residential school survivor, Anishinaabe Elder Fred Kelly eloquently described this to the TRC as follows:

 

“To take territorial lands away from a people whose very spirit is so intrinsically connected to Mother Earth actually dispossesses them of their very soul and being; it was to destroy whole Indigenous nations. Weakened by disease and separated from their traditional foods and medicines, First Nations peoples had no defence against further government encroachment on their lives.  Yet they continued to abide by the terms of the treaties trusting in the honour of the Crown to no avail. They were mortally wounded in mind, body, heart, and spirit that turned them into the walking dead.  Recovery would take time, and fortunately they took their sacred traditions underground to be practiced in secret until the day of revival that would surely come…I am happy that my ancestors saw fit to bring their sacred beliefs underground when they were banned and persecuted. Because of them and the Creator, my people are alive and in them I have found answers.”

 

Spiritual violence runs deep. This spiritual violence affected many of the surviving children immeasurably. Many told the TRC how they experienced confusion and fear as a result of their traditional beliefs being stripped away from them. Many of the survivors later saw the huge contradictions between Christian professed beliefs and the way they were actually treated by the so-called Christians. This confused them further as adults. Children who returned from schools to their homes were further confused when their parents clung to the old spiritual ways that had served them so well but, which the youth had been taught to reject. Many indigenous children lost respect for their parents and elders who failed to follow the new “better” religion. Recently I read how one indigenous person learned to hate her parents. Generations often had trouble communicating with each other, particularly when young children started to lose the language of their birth because it was prohibited in the schools where they spent so much time. As the TRC said,

“Survivors who wanted to learn the spiritual teachings of their ancestors were criticized and sometimes ostracized by their own family members who were Christians, and by the church. Survivors and their relatives reported that the tensions led to family breakdown—such is the dept of this spiritual conflict. The cumulative impact of the residential schools was to deny First Nations, Inuit, and Métis their spiritual birthright and heritage.”

 

Because of their historic role in the dismemberment of First Nation families and communities, Christians churches should be at the forefront of reconciliation.  some of them are. Some of those churches have apologized for their actions. That is good, but it is not enough. They should now be leading the reconciliation efforts with actions.

 

Spiritual Violence

 

As I have said earlier, the entire system of residential schools had a rotten foundation. That foundation was the unjustified assumption that Europeans were superior to the savages of the North American continent. Nothing built on such a foundation could stand. And it didn’t. In a nutshell that is white supremacy.

The Christian religion was an important part of this system and when it came to the residential schools of Canada it got pretty ugly. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) reported,

“Christian teachings were a fundamental aspect of residential schools. Aboriginal children were taught to reject the spiritual ways of their parents and ancestors in favour of the religions that predominated among settler societies. As their traditional ways of worshipping the Creator were disparaged and rejected, so too were the children devalued. They were not respected as human beings who were equally loved by the Creator just as they were, as First Nations, Inuit, or Métis peoples. Rather their Christian teachers saw them as inferior human beings in need of being ‘raised up’ through Christianity and tried to mould them into models of Christianity according to the racist ideals that prevailed at the time. The impact of such treatment was amplified by the federal laws and policies that banned traditional Indigenous spiritual practices in the children’s home communities for much of the residential school era.”

 

In this way religion was weaponized by Canada against the Indigenous people of Canada. The TRC went so far as to call this “spiritual violence.” The TRC defined spiritual violence as follows:

“Spiritual violence occurs when

  • a person is not permitted to follow her or his preferred spiritual or religious tradition;
  • a different spiritual or religious path or practice is forced on a person;
  • a person’s spiritual or religious tradition, beliefs, or practices are demeaned or belittled; or
  • a person is made to feel shame for practicing his or her traditional or family beliefs.

There is plenty of evidence to support our conclusion that spiritual violence was common in residential schools.”

 

It is also interesting to note how often that violence was effective. Many Indigenous children became good Christians for life. Many of them “lost” their own spirituality. I think that was a profound harm inflicted on Indigenous peoples by Canada. The effects of this violence were deep. Often it did not end in schools. For example, residential school survivor Theodore (Ted) Fontaine from Manitoba told the TRC, “I went through sexual abuse. I went through physical abuse, mental, spiritual. And I’ll tell you…the one thing we suffered [from] the most is the mental and spiritual abuse that we carried for the rest of our lives.”

All of this in turn has led to intergenerational impacts on Indigenous people that continues to have profound effect on them. The conclusion is clear, as the TRC said, “That Christians in Canada, in the name of their religion, inflicted serious harms on Aboriginal children, their families, and communities was in fundamental contradiction to their core beliefs.”

That is a mighty sad conclusion.

The Poisonous Fruit of White Supremacy

 

As I have already said, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) found that the entire residential school systems that Canada imposed on indigenous people without their consent, was based on the clear assumption, entirely belied by the facts, that European civilization and culture, and the Christian religion were superior to indigenous culture. The Canadians inherited from the Europeans they succeeded, an attitude in which they assumed that the indigenous culture and religion was savage and brutal. European countries, like France, England, and Spain, were the original colonizers and with the advent of settler colonialism that position was taken over by Canadians of European descent.  This was the ideology of  white supremacy.

 

As a result, the TRC reached a devastating conclusion:

“Colonization was undertaken to meet the perceived needs of the imperial powers. The justification offered for colonialism—the need to bring Christianity and civilization to the Indigenous peoples of the world—may have been a sincerely and firmly held belief, but as justification for intervening in the lives of other peoples, it does not stand up to legal, moral, or even logical scrutiny.  The papacy had no authority to give away lands that belonged to Indigenous people. The Doctrine of Discovery cannot serve as the basis for a legitimate to the lands that were colonized, if for no other reason that the so-called discovered lands were already well known  to the Indigenous peoples who had inhabited them for thousands of years. The wars of conquest that took place to strip Indigenous peoples were not morally just wars; Indigenous peoples were not, as colonists often claimed subhuman, and neither were they living in violation of any agreed-upon set of values. There was no moral imperative to impose Christianity on the Indigenous peoples of the world. They did not need to be ‘civilized’; indeed, there is no hierarchy of societies. Indigenous peoples had systems that were complete unto themselves and met their needs. Those systems were dynamic; they changed over time and were capable of continued change. Taken as a whole, the colonial process relied on for its justification on the sheer presumption of taking a specific set of European beliefs and values and proclaiming them to be universal values that could be imposed upon the peoples of the world. This universalizing of European values—so central to the colonial project—that was extended to North America served as the prime justification and rationale for the imposition of the residential peoples of Canada.”

 

White supremacy in other words, including a belief, in most cases sincerely held, that white Europeans were superior to Indigenous people and their religion, had the same element of superiority, was the justification for European dominance over Indigenous people, and that included imposing their religion on Indigenous people no matter the costs. That fundamental belief was the fundamental problem, and the legacy of that belief continues into present times. It was and is, toxic. It is the basis for much that went wrong with residential schools, and the imperial project of doing as we please with Indigenous people.

 

Nothing that comes from eating that poisonous fruit is worth saving.

Predatory Religion

 

The Christian churches and their missionaries played very important roles in the campaign to ban indigenous spiritual practices and replace them with Christian ones. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) described the process this way:

“The Christian Churches not only provided the moral justification for the colonization of other peoples’ lands, but they also dispatched missionaries to the colonized nations in order to convert ‘the heathen.’  From the fifteenth century on, the Indigenous peoples of the world were the objects of a strategy of spiritual and cultural conquest that had its origins in Europe.  While they often worked in isolation and under difficult conditions, missionaries were representatives of worldwide organizations that enjoyed the backing of influential individuals in some of the most powerful nations of the world, and which to amass considerable experience transforming different cultures. Residential schools figured prominently in missionary work, not only in Canada, but also around the world.”

 

As a result I do not think it is an exaggeration to describe these religious organizations as predatory.  That is precisely what they were—predatory religions. Their prey was indigenous people around the world.  The TRC explained their workings as follows:

“Christian missionaries played a complex, but central role in the European colonial project. Their presence helped justify the extension of empires, since they were visibly spreading the word of God to the heathen. If their efforts were unsuccessful, the missionaries might conclude that those who refused the Christian message could not expect the protection of the Christian church or the law, thus clearing the way for their destruction. Although the missionaries often attempted to soften the impact of imperialism, they were also committed to making the greatest changes in the culture and psychology of colonized. They might, for example, seek to have traders give fair prices and to have governments officials  provide relief in times of need, but they also worked to undermine relationships to the land, language, religion, family, educational practices, morality, and social customs.”

 

The missionaries disparaged indigenous spirituality with complete contempt. Later I intend to show how mistaken they were. The people of the New World had a new religion that the people from the old world could not fathom because it was so foreign to their assumptions. They also saw such spirituality as a competitor. They believed that the goal of cultural transformation could not be obtained without stamping out all indigenous religion and culture. As a result it is hardly surprising that they worked tirelessly to separate children from their parents, families, and communities. In the circumstances I think the word “predatory” is entirely justified.

As Blaise Pascal so well put it:  “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Terra nullius, the Doctrine of Discovery, and a lot of Bull

 

Residential schools were not established in a vacuum or what the Europeans referred to as terra nullius.  At least since the 15th century, though probably much earlier, the Roman Catholic Church, which was then the “universal” Christian Church saw itself as the vanguard of white Christian hegemony. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) concluded,

“In the fifteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church, building on the traditions of the Roman Empire, conceived of itself as the guardian of a universal world order. The adoption of Christianity within the Roman Empire (which defined itself as ‘civilized’) reinforced the view that to be civilized was to be Christian.”

 

Everyone else of course was a barbarian. The papacy led the charge here. In 1493 Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull (I love that expression in this case because it is so appropriate) in which he granted most of North and South America to Spain, without, of course, consulting the people that lived there.  That Bull helped to establish what was later referred to as the “Doctrine of Discovery” which gave the intellectual foundation for western colonialism. According to this doctrine, Catholics were allowed to own what they “discovered” in the New World, notwithstanding that it had been discovered thousands of years  before that. North and South America were far from empty of people. Of course, in return for granting these rights first to Spain and later to other European kingdoms, those kings were expected to assist in the conversion of indigenous peoples to Christianity.

The Doctrine of Discovery was based on a second false doctrine, namely, terra nullius—no man’s land—which falsely asserted that such land belonged to no one so could be claimed by Europeans. As a result, Europeans could take what they pleased in the New World and they had theological justification to do exactly that.

White supremacy was the justification of these dubious doctrines. As the TRC said,

“Underlying these arguments was the belief that the colonizers were bringing civilization to savage people who could never civilize themselves. The ‘civilizing mission’ rested on a belief of racial and cultural superiority.”

In the Canadian Parliament in 1883 the federal Minister of Public Works Hector Langevin stated the government position on residential schools:

“If you wish to educate these children you must separate them from their parents during the time that they are being educated. If you leave them in the family they may know how to read and write, but they remain savages, whereas by separating them in the way proposed they acquire the habits and tastes—it is to be hoped only the good tastes—of civilized people.”

 

The federal government of Canada was engaged in colonizing western Canada at the time that it began the residential schooling system. It did so in order to secure claims to the land that could not be assailed successfully. It saw that in the United States engaging in attempts to conquer the indigenous people was extremely expensive. In some years the American federal government spent as much as 25% of its budget fighting these wars and it was questionable how legitimate the claims to the indigenous land would be even after such huge expense.  Canada tried a different route—treaties. The federal government in Canada also recognized that on account of the treaties it was making and the dispossession of indigenous people from their traditional territories the indigenous people might need help to prevent starvation.  This problem was only exacerbated when the government forced some First Nations, such as the Peguis people of Manitoba from prime farmland they occupied and were very successfully farming in favour of European settlers. The government wanted to give the indigenous people the skills they would need to support themselves, but they also had the important goal of furthering their assimilation. As the TRC pointed out, “the schools were seen as engines of cultural and spiritual change: ‘savages were to emerge as Christian ‘white men.’”

Acknowledging this desire, Duncan Campbell Scott Canada’s highest civil servant with jurisdiction over “Indians” as they were called at the time, summarize Canadian government goals as follows:

“It includes not only a scholastic education, but instruction in the means of gaining a livelihood from the soil as a member of an industrial or mercantile community, and the substitution of Christian ideals of conduct and morals for aboriginal concepts of both.”

 

Residential schools were not just about education. In fact, they were much more important for the government’s goal of assimilation. And the churches were the instruments it chose to embark on this process.  And the rest is history. Ugly history at that.

 

 

The worst Infectious disease in residential schools

There were many things wrong with residential schools. Yet, as bad as all of those things were, which  I have been describing about Residential schools, perhaps what was even worst was the denigration of the parents, family, and culture of the indigenous people that was inflicted on the children as a result of a stunning and soul-obliterating assumption of white supremacy. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) said, “in establishing residential schools, the Canadian government essentially declared Aboriginal people to be unfit parents.” This attitude destroyed the connection between many indigenous children and their parents. It ruined the chances of indigenous children learning from their parent who to care for and nurture their own children when they became adults, thus ensuring that the pain of residential schools would be amplified and then allowed to cascade through the generations. It led directly and inevitably to the disasters Canada faces today. And it was all unnecessary. If only the dominant white society had learned that there was no reason for them to feel superior and these nations could have learned so much from each other. The indigenous people wanted to learn from the Europeans (and later Canadians) and could have offered so much to them in return.

I am not saying indigenous people were perfect and the Europeans/Canadians were fiends. But when there is a clash of civilizations and one group is vastly more powerful than the other, and if disaster ensues, fault is much more likely to be found with the powerful group than the weaker. Frankly, white male supremacy has been a deadly infectious disease in residential schools and Canadian society for a long time.

According to the TRC,

“Aboriginal parents were labelled as being indifferent to the future of their children—a judgment contradicted by the fact that parents often kept their children out of schools because they saw those schools, quite accurately, as dangerous and harsh institutions that sought to raise their children I alien ways. Once in the schools, brothers and sisters were kept apart, and the government and churches even arranged marriages for students after they finished their education.
The residential school system was based on an assumption that European civilization and Christian religions were superior to Aboriginal culture, which was seen as being savage and brutal. Government officials also were insistent that children be discouraged—and often prohibited—from speaking their own languages.

White male supremacy is not something that belongs to ancient forgotten times. It is alive and well. As the TRC said, “This hostility to Aboriginal culture and spiritual practice continued well into the twentieth century.”

Residential Schools were places where misery lived.

It was hardly surprising that many indigenous people resisted sending their children to residential schools even though they wanted their children to get educated in the ways of these strange Europeans who had arrived, they just did not want them to lose connection with their own culture and family and wanted them to be treated with respect. That was hardly a big ask. Here is how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) described the typical experience of life in these schools to which indigenous children were forced to attend:

 

“For children, life in these schools was lonely and alien.  Buildings were poorly located, poorly built, and poorly maintained. The staff was limited in numbers, often poorly trained, and not adequately supervised. Many schools were poorly heated and poorly ventilated, and the diet was meagre and of poor quality. Discipline was harsh, and daily life was highly regimented. Aboriginal languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed. The educational goals of the schools were limited and confused, and usually reflected a low regard for the intellectual capabilities of Aboriginal people. For the student s, education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers.”

 

I know we should not judge 19th and early 20th century facilities by 21st century standards but does that not sound like in hell?

Destructive by Design

 

After some protesters tore down statues of British queens on the Manitoba legislative grounds some political leaders, like Premier Brian Pallister got quite upset. Here is part of what he said,

“The people who came to this country, before it was a country and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came to build. They came to build better. To build, they did. They built farms, and they built businesses. They built communities, and churches too. And they built these things for themselves, and for one another, and they built them with dedication and with pride.”

 

At first glance this has a ring of truth to it.  But much is hidden below the surface.

 

Pallister said such actions on the part of protesters would stand in the way of reconciliation. Melissa Martin, a national award winning Winnipeg Free Press commentator understands these issues much better than Premier Pallister. Unlike Premier Pallister who outright ignored the pain and suffering of the indigenous people, in his haste to attack the vandals while praising the settlers,  Martin had some empathy for the indigenous people. She didn’t excuse them; she didn’t have to do that. She did attack Pallister’s unthinking praise for the European settlers who came to this province “to build better,” according to the Premier. Frankly, that is the settler myth that ignores a lot of Manitoba’s history. That history is not just one of building. It was also a history of destruction foisted on the people Pallister seems intent on ignoring. These are people that Pallister just does not see.

Martin pointed out, the flaw in the Premiers claims:

“This idea about the things settlers built for themselves, serving as an example to us today, does make a point, but not the one the premier intended. Because Canada did build itself many things. But never when it came to Indigenous people did it build “together,” and what it  built was certainly not without destruction.

When the settlers built, they did so not only without the indigenous people, often then they did so with the specific design of destroying their culture, their families, their society, and even, their children.”

It was not building better when about 140 years ago the settlers filled with jealousy, influenced Canadian politicians to give to them farm land around Selkirk that indigenous people had been given, because they saw how successful the indigenous farmers there were. For many years the indigenous people there thrived in their farming enterprises in that region.

 

In 1885 a federal official pointed out that the indigenous farmers were every bit as successful as the best Ontario farmers so they pressured the Canadian government to turn that rich farm land over to them instead and to push the indigenous farmers 200 km farther north where the land was much less fertile much less suitable for farming. The white settlers claimed the land and a white judge upheld their claims.  The Judge supported the effort to have the indigenous people evicted and moved.  A Canadian politician did not call this “building” as Premier Pallister did. He admitted in Parliament it was “a barefaced swindle.” More than a hundred years later the Canadian federal government admitted as much when it settled the law suit against it by the displaced First Nation for $126 million.

Again, in 1903 the Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nation was pressured to surrender its also fertile farming land in favour of white settlers. More than a 100 years later the injustice was finally acknowledged, when the First Nation was finally able to secure a measure of justice when the federal government settled with it by making a payment of $80 million to it. Again, the federal government admitted it had not just been “building”, but was destroying the way of life of the indigenous people.

Martin also reported how the federal government burned 35 Métis homes in the community of Ste. Madeline. Again, not a case of building but rather a case of destroying.

In fact, these acts of destruction by the Canadian government at the behest of white settlers were much more egregious than toppling statues of English queens.

Premier Pallister also ignored the things that indigenous people had built in this land long before Europeans arrived. As Martin said,

“Indigenous peoples built things too, on lands that sustained their nations since time immemorial. They built homes, and communities, and cultures. They built trade networks that stretched to every corner of the continent.

And they built deep knowledge of the land and how to live on it, strategies that allowed them to thrive from the deserts to the tundra. They built families that passed all this knowledge from one generation to another. When Canada came to these lands, none of these things Indigenous people had built was seen to matter.”

 Not only that, but in many respects, the indigenous people were barred from “building.”  The Indian Act and the Indian agents appointed pursuant to it, who controlled the reserves, made sure that indigenous people would always be dependent on the whites. Indigenous people could not even leave the reserve without a pass issued by the Indian agent under the pass system so admired by the white supremacists of South Africa.  As Martin said, that system, made the reserves “into open-air prisons.”  Others called them concentration camps, Canadian style.

Martin described the real world of Canadian settlers and indigenous people this way:

 “It takes a negative will to tear down,” Pallister said. “It takes a positive will to build up.”

 

Here, he was talking about statues. The words would better apply to residential schools, which for over a century deliberately tore down Indigenous cultures, families and lives. They would better apply to policies that denied full participation in the nation’s economic life and sought to sever Indigenous peoples’ self-determination.

 

This is the history from where we have come. It cannot now be undone.

 

But when Indigenous people stand up to call for an end to celebrating the figures and events that, by design, so damaged their communities, this is not an act of tearing down. It is, in fact, an invitation to consider a new future, one where, for the first time in this country’s history, we actually can build something better together.

Canada is a construction project, Pallister said, and in a way he’s right. Those who came here built many things, supported by a government and a system that prioritized their chance at affluence, their place on the land and their rights. And that construction came at a heavy cost to Indigenous health, and Indigenous life.”

 

This history of Canada is uncomfortable for many Canadians. They prefer the more comfortable  “history” encapsulated in statues of English monarch. They prefer the settler version of the truth that ignores the privileges the settlers were granted at the expense of the indigenous people who were moved away to allow the settlers to benefit from those privileges. The settler version of the truth is much more attractive to many Canadians because it hides the ugly truth. But reconciliation will never be possible until those comfortable and untrue myths are set aside the real truth is faced. As Martin said,

“Reconciliation, in part, requires understanding that to go forward, to build better, then we must see the pain and that is part of that story too. In this way, a couple of toppled statues don’t stand in the way of reconciliation; what might is if we make so much noise about statues, that we close our ears to hearing the truth.”

 

Conservatives Reaction to the Toppling of Statues

 

I found the reaction of Conservatives, such as Brian Pallister and others, to the toppling of statues on the Manitoba legislative grounds telling. First, Conservatives have not been loud opponents of residential schools. They have been content with formulaic statements without much vigor or apparent sincerity. Ever since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC ‘) issued its report in 2015, which outlined an astonishing history of abuse, not just by a few bad apples, but decades of systemic abuse, the Conservatives seldom, to my knowledge called strongly for the 94 calls to action of the TRC to be implemented. Nor did they berate the government for their lack of action. Just like most Canadians, they were quietly acquiescent with the largely inactive file on the part of the Canadian government. Few people in Canada were calling for action.  They were silent in other words. That is what I mean when I say that Canadians were largely silent. They seemed to be satisfied with the fact that Prime Minster Harper apologized on their behalf (though some Canadians thought he went too far), but they were also satisfied that nothing was being done to implement or fulfill the calls to action. Very few were calling for action in other words.

The Liberals, as they tend to do, were quick to endorse the report of the TRC and quick to say all 94 calls to action should be implemented, but then did little to actually do what they promised to do. Again Canadians by and large did not hold the Liberals to account, any more than they held the Conservatives to account. Canada largely ignored the TRC report, until 2021 when unmarked graves began to be discovered on the grounds of various former residential schools in Canada.

Yet when a few statues were toppled Conservatives, like my own Premier Brian Pallister and my own Member of Parliament Ted Falk, were quick to loudly claim that the indigenous miscreants or their allies, ought to be held “accountable”. To me it seemed the Conservatives, like so many Canadians, were much more interested in the loss of property than they were interested in the loss of lives at residential schools.

In an editorial  the Carillon News actually got it right. As editor Greg Vandermeulen said,

“The toppling of the Queen Victoria statue at the Manitoba Legislature on Canada Day  has revealed we still have a long way to go when it comes to reconciliation. Yet that realization wasn’t from the vandalism itself, but from the reactions of we’ve seen from politicians and many Manitobans…

To be clear, there are no significant people  that are defending vandalism. But there is still a very big difference in how the news was greeted.

Premier Brian Pallister demonstrated a massive lack of leadership in his July 2 statement. In it, he said nothing about understanding where the anger was coming from, nor did he point out that the loss of a material thing like a statue has absolutely no comparison to the horror of human lives being snuffed out.

Instead, he simply lashed out, saying the vandalism was “unacceptable” and a “major setback” for those working toward real reconciliation. He advocated that those who did the vandalism be “pursued actively” by the courts.

His reaction, captured in his statement showed his priorities, and it’s frustratingly clear he’s not the only one.”

As I said about Judge Giesbrechts comments, these comments by our Premier are wooden-headed, wooden-hearted, or both. They demonstrate the profound ignorance of powerful and comfortable whites who are blind to their own privilege.

Today I heard Premier Pallister repeat the comments he made and which were instrumental in part in his Minister of Indigenous Affairs resigning. Pallister said we should build together. What he does not get is that although there is nothing wrong with this statement, for him to suggest that settlers or their successors always built together with Indigenous people is just not true. Pallister just does not get it. Frankly, I think he speaks for other Manitobans in this respect. They just don’t get it either.