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.

One of Beyak’s correspondents was former Inuvik Dene Chief Cece Hodgson-McCauley, who thanked her for “opening up the much needed controversial debate on the positive side of the residential school experience.”

Hodgson-McCauley described the 10 years she spent at a residential school in Fort Providence, North West Territories, as “the best years of my life.”

She said she and her brother and sister were well taken care of and ate nourishing food. “We had an education, learning math, reading and writing.” Hodgson-McCauley went on to become the first female chief of one of the 23 bands in the Northwest Territories. She also wrote a popular weekly column for Northern News Service right up until one week before she died of cancer at the age of 95 on March 12, 2018.

Hodgson-McCauley, the recipient of a 2017 Indspire Award for her achievements and contributions in politics, reported that many former students were coming forward “with their good and positive side of their residential school experiences.” Elders had phoned her to express concern that only the negative side of the residential schools was being publicized. “They are planning to start a committee of elders to make public the positive side of the residential school.  They all agree that Canadians must be made aware of the positive stories,” she wrote.

Surely one of the most impressive positive stories is by the famous Tomson Highway, which can be found here:

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/12/15/tomson-highway-residential-schools_n_8787638.html

He states: “There are many very successful people today that went to those schools and have brilliant careers and are very functional people, very happy people like myself.”

There is much more. A significant number of the letters sent to Beyak came from people with personal stories related to Indian residential schools:

– “As retired educators ourselves, with a combined experience of 26 years in Aboriginal and Metis schools, we witnessed first-hand the positive anecdotes and experiences of those who gained from their attendance at Residential Schools.  Unfortunately, current orthodoxy forces their ‘voices’ to be silenced.”

– “As the brother of a nun who worked in the system, and the nephew of a Jesuit who worked there too, I categorically refuse to believe that all the people who worked in these schools were as evil as they are being portrayed to be. Indeed, they were seeking, under the social rules that were generally accepted at the time, to do good and to help these children.”

– “I worked with Chipewyan people as an employee of the Catholic Church from 1991 to 2001 …. I heard many positive comments by native people who had attended residential school in Fort Resolution…. One woman, a Chief of her community for some years, said, ‘I couldn’t wait to go back to residential school.  You were clean and you had good food.’ I knew another family, eight children. The Dad was a trapper who spent the winter on the barren lands. His wife contracted TB and was placed in the isolation hospital in Ft. Res. The children were taken by the Dad each year to the school to keep them safe. It was very hard for the youngest who was only 4 yrs at the time – traumatic even to be separated from parents and older sibs. However, the child survived where otherwise he may not have. The schools must be viewed in the context of the social and economic circumstances at the time.”

– “My husband has worked and lived in several aboriginal communities in the north which greatly benefited from these schools and where the people speak very highly of the care and instruction they received. We are only given one side of the story.”

– “I spent over ten years living and working on reserves and northern settlements. And I remember, as a teacher, how often we had to convince the population to keep their children at home and go to the Day School, rather than to send them to a residential school. If the residential schools had been so bad why were parents insisting that their children go? I personally saw a lot of good emanate from these schools. I do admit mistakes were made but those same mistakes also existed in the population at large. Yes, most people were well intentioned and worked with the knowledge they thought best.”

– “I have lived and worked in Prince Albert, SK, for a number of years and had the opportunity to meet retired teachers of residential schools, and listen to their experiences as well. Those I met, were all good, hardworking and well intentioned people. I also had the opportunity to meet First Nations people, teachers and lawyers, who are now effective leaders and advocates among and on behalf of their people, exactly because they received education in those residential schools.”

– “I attended a First Nations Art Exhibition in Fort McMurray and I met a native artist who told me how grateful she was to the nuns and priests in her community who ran the school because for her it was a place of refuge. She said that her parents would go out on the trap-line and leave them to fend for themselves and she would go sit on the steps of the school and hope someone would help her.

-“I myself am a product of a Catholic convent school and while some people who attended that school with me will now say that the nuns were racists and treated them unfairly, that was not my experience. Yes, they were strict, but the principles of kindness and consideration for others were held in high esteem and they instilled in me values that successfully took me through more than 40 years in the business world.”

– “My mother has a cousin who attended a residential [school] and whenever she is asked about it she tells [her] that her experience was a good one, in fact she credits the residential school system with having provided her the opportunity to have a good education. Her experience in residential school was so good that when the federal government offered a blanket cash settlement to all former attendees, she refused to take it.”

– “I know from first-hand experience that the Residential schools provided a lot of good and back in the fifties it gave children from the reserves the opportunity to witness life off the reserve, to be educated in more than a one room school house for all, and to join in social programs to broaden their experience.

– “I think of the many people who provided clothing and funding to help ensure the children had a good experience at the Residential school while away from home. I am not naive enough to suggest that in some areas there were[n’t] some serious problems which should never have happened but you cannot tarnish the whole system with the same brush.”

– “Having worked for and with Aboriginal people in northwestern Ontario – many who are my friends – I support what you have said. Are there not two sides to this story?  Why is only one side being expressed?  Shame on our government.”

Almost no attention has been paid to the fact that many of the letters acknowledge the abuses that occurred within the residential school system, but contend there is another, more positive side of the story.

In publishing the letters, Beyak has given voice to indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians with intimate knowledge of Indian residential schools whose testimony has previously been ignored or suppressed. Until their stories become part of the historical record, the whole truth will not be known, and reconciliation will not be achieved.

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. I am truly sorry to hear of the passing of Cece Hodgson-McCauley, I have read many of her columns in Northern News Services while working and traveling in the North. As she pointed out that no one denies that some people working in the residential schools had abused several children in their care, but it is unfair to the rest to vilify residential schools who have educated many indigenous people and provided a positive life experience.

    Yes there are two sides to a story and only one side is allowed to speak due to the anti-Christian secular agenda held by the Trudeau government.

  2. If you are going to make a claim about whether or not residential schools constitute genocide, then I recommend you do at least some very basic research about the origin and legal definition of “genocide.” According to the to both the pioneering work of Raphael Lemkin as well as Article II of the UN Genocide Convention (which states “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”), the residential school system was undoubtedly a policy of genocide.

    1. This strikes me as an intemperate comment. The UN definition of genocide is directed at international attempts by one race or nation to liquidate another. The Residential Schools of Canada had no such intent. Notwithstanding their abuses and sins, they were dedicated to helping the stone-age aboriginal people of Canada who were here before the Whiteman to assimilate by way of education into mainstream society. The aboriginal population of Canada in mid nineteenth century numbered barely two or three hundred thousand. Today it is over 1,440,000 souls. This hardly speaks of genocide.

  3. How can someone write about “balancing the biased genocide story of indigenous schools” when the children were taken from their communities and families? No one deserves brownie points for giving a residential school child a moment of happiness or relief when a the child was forced to live in dire conditions in the first place.

    1. You haven’t told us what direct personal experience you have had with residential schools and their students. As I mentioned in my blog, the Whiteman at the time was cognizant that a stone-age people with no education in the ways of modern civilization would not do well without at least some education and training to prepare them for modernity. The policy of forcing Indians (as they were then called) into residential schools came about because Indian parents preferred their children to work on trap lines, etc, at a very young age rather than go to the original day-schools built on reservations for them. Residential schools were indeed intended to force-feed those children with education to protect and prepare them for modernity. Many, many of those students learned trades in the residential schools that prepared them for making a living in the commercial society surrounding them. My only experience is indirect: a close friend who worked in such a school in the far north, where he told me that parents often brought their hungry, and often sick kids to his residential school and begged him to take them. He said often kids trekked through the wilderness to get to his school themselves, begging for food (and clothing, and a bath).

      1. William, which society was from the Stone Age? Were the brits the not the ones who owned slaves, had rampant inequality within their societies, and found themselves constantly involved in brutal wars? That sounds quite Stone-Aged to me. Especially considering they were the ones who “salted the earth” through overfishing, overhunting, and damaging the ecosystems indigenous peoples depended on for their livelihoods. It’s quite Stone-Aged to ignore the impact of the British on Indigenous ways of life while implying the Indigenous were the ones to blame for their poverty and suffering in the 19th and 20th centuries. Had their ways of life not led them to live sustainably for centuries before western contact?

        1. Jeremy – I recommend you get ahold of my last book, “The French Traveler”, which you can buy directly from my site. It will help you balance your misperceptions about the aboriginal people of Canada as witnessed by French explorers of the 18th ct and earlier (especially, Charlevoix). It may also cure you of some of your romantic “noble savage” notions. Don’t freak out. That is an Eighteenth century term of record explained in the book. There were many very good and many very bad things about aboriginal life in Canada that attracted the interest of a lot of Europeans in those centuries. I also recommend some other reading for you: Jenness, “The Indians of Canada”; Clifton, “The Invented Indian”; Krech, “The Ecological Indian”; Hackett, “Champlain’s Dream”; Flanagan, first Nations, Second Thoughts”; and of course, all 300+ footnotes in my book (above). Then, we could have a sensible conversation

  4. In my old country it is said:
    The stuffed persons do not believe the hungry one, nor the healthy person understand the sick one.
    And there is another saying:
    To each man his personal cross is heavier than the cross of that man beside him.
    This last saying comes from Christianity. The wisdom we get from life, we underestimate if we do not practice it in life.

  5. I am wondering what your thoughts are on forcing other societies to “modernize” as you put it. Do you think it is ethically acceptable to make contact with people and decide they need to be modernized. If that is the case, are you for government regulations forcing businesses to change to modern times? There is a clear indication of a need to move away from carbon producing energy sources. Should all of those working within industries which care not carbon neutral be provided education, and those industries forced to regulate or change? If not, why?

    1. Why you ignoring my question my dude? you seem A OK responding to others?

    2. All societies that exist today do so because they have conquered or replaced prior societies. The Indians who were found here, had been conquered and, in many cases – such as the Huron – wiped out by stronger tribes like the Iroquois (who were not then native to Ontario). As I wrote, the Native/Indians/Indigenous people of Canada were a stone-age people (they had no metalworks or tools or weapons) when conquerors arrived to settle this continent. Much that white settlers did and have done is laudable, and much regrettable. But that’s the way it was and is. Governments do not need to force businesses to do anything except abide by the laws. Please take the trouble to read my book “The French Traveler” (which you can purchase direct from my website). It’s a translation with commentary on observations on Indian life by French explorers in 18th Century Canada. I researched and wrote over 300 footnotes for that book. Then, please read my article on the nonsense and ignorance surrounding the topic of so-called climate change, and deal with the truth laid out there:
      https://www.theepochtimes.com/climate-change-confusion-what-are-we-to-think-2_2859742.html

      1. lol, “truth”

      2. You present at least two major inaccurate arguments.

        The average annual temperature in the high Arctic is about minus 34 C, and the coldest months range from minus 35 C to minus 50 C. It’s a little hard for most people to fathom why a rise of less than 1 C averaged over the entire planet would change very much up there.

        the average temperature varies over the seasons and is most definitely not -34 C, See here for a chart https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=zBof9Dz4&id=1EADA0E0F3EF1D15F7BF347B11770322FF26554D&thid=OIP.zBof9Dz4guQosGT9_c-4rgHaFj&mediaurl=http%3a%2f%2fwww.stateofourclimate.com%2fuploads%2fArctic_temp_change_to_2015_Hansen_Sato.png&exph=720&expw=960&q=temperature+change+in+the+arctic&simid=608002399917770948&ck=61EF9869D3D2FFC4480C57F16BA259AE&selectedIndex=6&FORM=IRPRST&ajaxhist=0

        When ice melts on land, and runs into the ocean it often DOES NOT renew as ice collection. There is clear evidence of reduction of land and ocean based ice. Where do you suspect that is going?

        Also, your argument about the displacement of ice is inaccurate: http://smithplanet.com/stuff/iceandwater.htm Icebergs are floating, and therefore displace the volume equal to the objects MASS. It is not a net zero

        1. Thanks for that very interesting article. All I was arguing is what the article concluded about the displacement of water by anything floating in it;

          “In short, the water level will not change as the ice cube melts.”

      3. Also, I saw your recent post complaining about people bringing conversation to you, must be rough to have to back up your opinions. I took a look at your book, interesting perspective, but how can you not admit the perspective of people coming from western culture at that time would be biased?

        1. I do not usually respond to snide, weak, poorly argued, or ad hominem arguments. Nor to those in which the writer compensates for low intelligence by using foul language. You should inform yourself a little on the obvious fact that all cultures worth the name are inherently “biased” in favour of their own moral, social, and political views, or, they are not really “cultures” at all. Perhaps just dying cultures.In this basic sense, all cultures are engaged in a kind of low level war for dominance with each other, or a high level one, when they take up arms and fight each other.

  6. Residential Schools in both practice and intent produced far more positive than negative results. The appalling home conditions fostered by an ideology of sloth and entitlement continues to flourish today. conditions……

  7. I can not speak to any personal experience, only to the experiences of friends I have made over the years.
    I have known four differnt individuals.
    Two were brothers.
    One died of alcoholism in his 40’s but was never able to talk of his experience. His brother felt that he had learning disabilities, which I noted and spent six months teaching him basic language skills in a moment of his sobriety.
    If I was to make a guess, I would say he may have had what we now call Fetal Alcohol Syndrome combined with some form of autism.
    He thrived but sadly fell back into his alcoholism once back home in his northern community, where as his brother put it, the community wasn’t ready to accept a changed man. Sad.
    His brother?
    Was a brilliant man. Well read, very well educated. All credited to his time in the residential school. He admitted it was the best thing that ever happened for him as there was no hope of an education in the same community his brother went back to.
    These were his words, not mine.
    The next was a lady very instrumental in my mental health well being, despite the fact she could not leave her demons behind from her experience of the school.
    I am not sure why she could not? I wish she had followed her own advise.
    She had helped me and many others that crossed paths with her. Beautiful lady. Her soul. Sadly it was in constant anguish, eventually causing her sickness and an early death.
    The last dear sweet gal, is in her ’80’s. What a gal.
    Always happy. Always full of life. Very wise.
    She still enjoys the hunt, though much smaller game now. Very devout Catholic, enjoys the worship music and can just as easily enjoy the culture of her Dene roots.
    Four differnt people with direct knowledge of the schools.
    Four very different experiences.
    What I do notice is many, many younger people, who have picked up the cause and take someone else’s resentment and carries the burden as though it was theirs to carry.
    I am not sure where this comes from but I fear it is the wrong thing to teach or commend in the youth.
    It is not their resentments to own.
    There appears to have been good and bad experiences….
    I can say there was abuse and louy teachers and good and bad experiences throughout my school life also.
    Was I wretched from my parents arms and taken away.
    Not at all.
    But all four of the people I knew never saw it as being wretched away.
    Three felt it was one of the best experiences they were given.
    One felt her parents were the first poor adult experience she had as she talked of being abandoned. Given away.
    Perhaps she remember it from a scared child’s perspective. Perhaps not.
    Those things tragically died with her.
    In death she finally found peace.
    But she left a legacy of men and women, most of us nearing our retirement years and giving back what she freely gave us. Hope. Encouragement. And a belief in ourselves and others.
    I do have horror stories of my ancestors.
    Actual genocide in Eastern Europe and Russia.
    Whole villages wiped out. The males taken away with the old and killed and left in ditches to rot.
    The women and young girls facing all kinds of atrocities at the hands of their captors.
    Many impregnated.
    And born and raised their child of rape.
    But that was their horror. Not mine.
    It would do me well never to forget.
    But what I do embrace is the victory my ancestors had.
    The journey of those that tried to escape and were succesful. To find new homes, only to do it again.
    Finally some making it to Canada.
    The positives.
    It does us well to remember the evil of the unjust and the pain of the victims.
    But the anger and resentments are not mine or anyone’s to hold.
    Instead embrace the positives.
    The successes. The rising above the hurt and pain.
    You and I.
    We are the positive outcomes. And we will not allow abuse in any form to take place. To anyone.
    But I can not change what was.
    Only learn from it.
    Cry for those that suffered.
    Celebrate those who overcame.

  8. Your argument is bogus on its face. “A handful of students had good experiences in Residential Schools because they learned things like a language and math or because they learned a trade or profession, therefore Residential Schools were good” is like saying “a handful of Jews had good experiences in concentration camps because they were favoured by the guards and/or because they were given a higher status job within the camp, therefore concentration camps were good.” It’s a bad faith argument because if you look at specific examples from any large scale problem you will almost always find positive examples. Your focus on a small minority of people who had positive experiences belies the fact that the overwhelming majority of First Nations children in Residential Schools *did not* have positive experiences and were subjected to mental, physical, and sexual abuse. Your entire argument is the equivalent of saying “look over there!” to distract from the serious issues of Residential Schools so that you don’t have to acknowledge them.

    1. Ryan, I get the point your are trying to make, that a few good cases for some does not excuse a bad situation for most. But the opposite is also true: a few bad cases for some does not spoil a good situation for most. To make your argument stick logically you would have to show that over the span of more than 140 years and 150,000 cases, far more children were harmed than helped by their residential school experience. Can you do that?

      1. Just as you have posed the question to Ryan, can you do the opposite? Your posing Ryan with a question not even you can answer either in the reverse. If you are going to pose a question not even you can answer then you’re going to need a more convincing argument.

        1. Abby – you have already proven my case, which was simply that Ryan’s question was a non sequitur, a non-question, or perhaps question-begging is the correct term?

  9. It does strike me as odd, you asking someone what their direct personal experience is, in order to validate their claims, and then admitting that you have no direct personal experience yourself but rather that you are relying on the reports of others. Perhaps you should speak to those who suffered the indignities, the cruelties and the abuse that they experienced. I have spoken to several survivors of residential schools, and I can tell you their experiences left them shattered: being called by a designated number rather than their own name, having their braids cut off without consent, being punished for daring to speak their native tongue to fellow students, being punished for speaking to their siblings, having proper nourishing food being denied them, receiving cruel, humiliating and extremely painful physical punishments that you, I would hope, would not wish any child to suffer. Perhaps then you might think differently than you presently do.

  10. “… the Whiteman at the time was cognizant that a stone-age people with no education in the ways of modern civilization would not do well without at least some education and training to prepare them for modernity.”

    A stone-age people with no education? According to whose opinion?!

    1. Andrea … I recommend you read my book “The French Traveler”, which is available from my website with one click. There you will see plenty of admiring comments from people who lived among the Indians (as they were then called) of Canada, but also lots of balancing criticisms. They were obviously a stone-age people as they had no metal tools or implements. I wrote they had “no education in the ways of modern civilization,” either. What is it about that statement you did not understand? Clearly, they had a solid education in their own stone-age ways of life, many of which were greatly admired (as you will see in my book) by many Europeans.

      1. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say they had a solid education in their own stone-age culture. That was the problem. They’d forgotten their own culture, and refused to embrace ours, and thus were drifting, unable to support themselves in their failing communities. Hell if there’s an Indian alive who wants to actually practice his ancestral culture independent of the modern world, I say more power to him. But those Indians don’t really exist. They like horses, alphabets and wheels too much.

  11. Thanks to Mr Gairdner for his Blog which supports my views of the “true” intentions and successes of the residential school era. I have always thought the “Truth and Reconcilliation” people were guilty of “Confirmation Bias”. Thank you.

  12. What amazes me is how the majority of FNP identify as Catholic Christians more than even non-FNP per capita bases.
    How is this possible if the abuses were as wide spread as we have been led to believe. Who are these people on the TRC commission? Should they be scrutinised for possible political bias? Financial gain/Victim Industry? etc. Follow the money honey.

    1. You hit the nail on the head. There is a critique of that flawed government report by U of Winnipeg Professors Clifton and deWolf, From Truth Comes Reconciliation, which will be released soon by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Please contact them to get in line for a copy, at https//fcpp.org
      After I wrote this, Professor Clifton sent me this:
      Dear Bill,
      Thanks for your call. Always good to hear from you. Here is the data on the book for your friend. There are many facts in the book that this person will be interested in. For example, only about 30% of Indigenous children in the proper age cohort went to Indian Residential Schools over the 113-year history (1883 to 1996), the average stay was 4.5 years at the end of that time period, and in the North where I worked in Inuvik all kids from small communities went to the schools. There were no schools in small communities so in the Stringer Hall, the Anglican residence, about 15% of the kids were non-Indigenous.

      Here are the data:

      Clifton, Rodney A. and DeWolf, Mark From Truth Comes Reconciliation: An Assessment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report
      Winnipeg, MB: Frontier Centre for Public Policy, 2021.
      Email: newideas@fcpp.org.

  13. We certainly need to take some collective responsibility for the action of our for fathers.
    But we need to understand what was the intent of these actions.
    If the governments intension was to wipe out torture and cause as much pain and suffering as possible then we should (as said by an Indian chief) We need to get back in our planes and trains and boats and get the f out of our country.
    If the intent was to help the natives to have a better life (according to the standards of the day) then the actions should be looked at differently. Aristotle one of the greatest thinkers supported slavery. That does not imply he was an animal and all his statues and books should be burnt.
    Thought experiment: What if one of your grandchildren in the future came up to you and said how could you be such a non caring animal and eat cow flesh. We now have the ability to communicate with these animals and they have told us how your generation tortured and killed cows. Your answer could be “we did not realize what we were doing was wrong” and “everybody was eating cow so we took it for granted it was acceptable”. I am in no way suggesting natives are cows. I am only stressing the point that say’s John A Macdonald was not some vicious animal.
    We on the other side need to take collective responsibility for the action of our history. The wellness of our current Canadian society is partially based on the backs of our Canadian natives and should be recognized as such.

    1. to your point that each generation may be doing things it considers a right and acceptable? just consider the matter of today’s self-righteous claim that killing perfectly healthy babies in the womb is an expression of liberty (free choice of the woman). It is not difficult to imagine that in future there will be a reversal in favour of preserving all human lives, and our “woke” generation – millions of us – will be considered people who sanctioned murder in the womb.

  14. The only way we can confront this problem is to have a group of thinkers that does NOT include anyone from the far left or the far right to sit down and discuss the issues in a balanced way. We need to seriously listen to each side and try to come up with a solution. If the far right and the far left reject the possible solutions that means we are probably on the right track:)

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