Balancing the biased “Genocide” Story About Residential Schools

I have been waiting a long time to hear a more balanced “truth” about Canada’s Residential schools for Indian/Native/Aboriginal/First-Nations (etc., etc) children. Someday, I thought, voices will be raised in defence of the efforts those schools made to educate, feed, and shelter Indian children in need and help them transition to the realities of the European civilization that had become the dominant force in their lives.

Surely, it was not true that most native children had abusive experiences? Surely, many of them learned to read and write English or French, and math, and more, and then learned trades and some, at least, went on to learn professions?

I found it odd that in so many photos of Indian students in these schools, almost all look like clean, well-dressed, well-fed, happy kids. How come? Well, maybe just because many of them were?

In my previous post on Jonathan Kay’s article I included a couple of “Comments”, one by a fellow with in-depth experience on the Indian file who told us that the typical “genocide” narrative is simply wrong. So don’t believe it. And he directed us to documented proof of this – from our own government!

Now, thanks to an article “Letters to Senator Beyak .. Uncensored,” in C2C Journal  (April 16, 2018) by Toronto Journalist and author Robert MacBain, we learn that Senator Lynn Beyak has been vilified and demonized for collecting letters of praise for Canada’s residential schools from Native people who loved, and clearly benefited from, their school experience. Mr. MacBain is writing a book about all this, and it’s about time someone made this effort to correct the public record.  No one should ignore the need to call out abuses in human life, wherever found. But we should not withhold well-deserved praise and gratitude, either.

You can read more below to see some of these letters. They are a much-needed corrective.

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Honest Skepticism About Residential Schools

Below, you will find very revealing “comments” on an article about the cult of the so-called “Noble-Savage” that was recently published in the on-line Journal Quillette, by Toronto journalist Jonathan Kay (himself now an Editor of this Journal). Kay’s article is here:

http://quillette.com/2018/04/22/canadas-cult-noble-savage-harms-indigenous-peoples/

The article is interesting, but in some cases poorly informed. I think he could have benefited from reading Professor Tom Flanagan’s book, First Nations, Second Thoughts (McGill-Queen’s, 2008), and also Widdowson and Howard’s Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry (McGill-Queen’s, 2008), prior to publishing his article. In the article, he offers some personal observations on Canada’s residential schools.

[As an aside – My own interest in this topic comes from the fact that I recently finished translating an Eighteenth-century French book that has never before been translated into English before, called Le Voyageur Français (1768), or, The French Traveler. It is a fascinating, but not very politically-correct rendering of Indian and colonial life in Canada in the mid-eighteenth century, and is presently under review by McGill-Queen’s University Press, with a view to publication before the end of 2018].

Now, back to Kay and Canada’s residential schools. Human nature being what it is, there were clearly some cruel abuses in Canada’s residential schools over the period of more than one hundred years. They were not run by angels. But there were just as obviously many wonderful stories of otherwise neglected children who thrived at these schools. At any rate, I have long been suspicious of much of the public account.

This began when my friend Rod Clifton, who taught for a year at a residential school in the far north of Canada, reported personally to me: “The children were often brought to our school straight out of the forest, dirty and hungry, their parents begging us to take them in. Sometimes they wandered in from the forest by themselves.”

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