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Residential Schools as the Root of All Evil

February 27, 2012
Qu'Appelle Residential School, one of the now-...

Qu’Appelle Residential School

The Globe and Mail:

The commission that was established to reveal the dark legacy of church-run residential schools for aboriginal children says all Canadians should be made more aware of the sorry chapter in their country’s history.

In an interim report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to be released on Friday in Vancouver, Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair says comprehensive awareness efforts are needed to ensure that the rest of Canada fully understands the pain of the students who attended the schools and the parents whose children were taken from them.
By all means student should learn something about natives and the residential schools. But that “fully understands” bit raises the suspicion that something more than a history class unit is being proposed. Sure enough, in The Globe’s editorial endorsing the Commision’s recommendation, we find this:

Commissioners Marie Wilson, Chief Wilton Littlechild and Justice Murray Sinclair are not being hyperbolic when they say residential schools were an assault on aboriginal culture, families and society. “People are angry at being told they should simply ‘get over it,’” the report observes. “Canadians have been led to believe that Aboriginal people were and are uncivilized, primitive and inferior…. This lack of education and misinformation has led to misunderstanding and… hostility between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.”

But if the notions of civilization and advancement have any meaning—and of course they do—then Aboriginals indeed were and are less civilized and more primitive than whites. If ‘inferior’ means less civilized or less capable of handling the modern world, then that’s true, too. There’s no evidence of any lack of education or misinformation in this.

So actually the Commission wants is to stamp out the (highly plausible) idea that the main problem with aboriginals is aboriginals, and replace it entirely with the view that whites alone are responsible for the ills of aboriginals.

Actually, in a sense that’s true. Once whites showed up, aboriginals were doomed. But I doubt anything much after that (residential schools or whatnot) really mattered much. The failure to appreciate this is something the Commission has in common with the organizers of residential schools. And no wonder. It’s a depressing realization.

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