All posts by Wayne K. Spear

Begin by listening

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an occasion for remembrance and also for understanding

Orange Shirt Day
✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | SEPTEMBER 30, 2022 • Current Events

FATHER HUBERT O’CONNOR was principal of the St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School the year Phyllis Webstad was born. Six years later, in 1973, Phyllis arrived at the school wearing the new orange shirt she’d been given by her grandmother.

For decades Indian residential schools greeted their wards with a stock list of indignities: the children’s hair was cut, their clothing stripped away and replaced by a drab uniform, and numbers were assigned to serve henceforth in place of their names.

Phyllis’ new orange shirt was taken, and she never saw it again. At a May 2013 gathering of former St. Joseph’s students, her story became the inspiration for Orange Shirt Day. On May 28, 2021 a bill passed unanimously in the House of Commons, and shortly thereafter in the Senate, designating September 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

September, the month of this national day of remembrance, is remembered by many Indigenous people as the time of year when those who got to spend summer at home returned to the institution. September is also remembered, with a degree of loathing, as the time when male children were sent into the schools’ fields to pick carrots and potatoes and to perform the many chores of harvest time.

But back to the future Bishop O’Connor. I began with him to underscore the fact that not so long ago predators abounded in the residential schools. At St. Joseph’s alone, dorm supervisor Edward Gerald Fitzgerald and Oblate priests Glenn Doughty and Harold McIntee were serial offenders.

In 1996 O’Connor was convicted of rape indecent assault. Doughty and McIntee served brief prison sentences for indecent assault, gross indecency, and buggery. An RCMP visit inspired Edward Gerald Fitzgerald to flee to Ireland in 2002, where local media reported him living in a “plush” Dublin suburb beyond the reach of Canadian authorities.

A good deal more of the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School can be had from first-hand accounts — for example Bev Sellars’s memoir They Called Me Number One — as well as from research such as Elizabeth Furniss’s Victims of Benevolence: The Dark Legacy of the Williams Lake Indian Residential School and Margaret Whitehead’s 1981 study The Cariboo Mission: a history of the Oblates.

History, as the Final Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples says, “is not an attractive picture, and we do not wish to dwell on it.” But, as RCAP also acknowledges:

it is sometimes necessary to look back in order to move forward. The co-operative relationships that generally characterized the first contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people must be restored, and we believe that understanding just how, when and why things started to go wrong will help achieve this goal.

In other words, truth before reconciliation. We look back for one and forward to the other. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an occasion for remembrance and also for understanding.

On this year’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, many Indigenous people will be thinking of the children who suffered loneliness and deprivation, and who in some cases never got to return home. It is a sombre day of reflection but also a day to acknowledge that Indigenous people survived a system designed to erase their languages and cultures.

Today there’s an abundance of articles, books and video concerning every facet of the Indian residential schools, much of it in the voices of those who were there. In my experience they are more than willing to tell their stories. The simple act of listening is where both truth and reconciliation begin.⌾

Climate change and Indigenous peoples’ health in Canada, a report

Everything from air quality, personal safety, livelihoods, mental well-being, and cultures and identity are at risk as the world warms. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis knowledge offers mitigation and adaptation strategies.

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | AUGUST 5, 2022 • Current Events

neil ever osborne: gwaii-haanas

The man known as Guujaaw — hewer of wood, hauler of water — and the former president of the Council of the Haida Nation, lays chinook salmon over the rafters of his smokehouse in Skidegate, a community on British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii archipelago. Salmon have long played a key role in the Haida way of life, acting as both a food source and a symbol of fertility and abundance. Skidegate, Gwaii Haanas, British Columbia, Canada. (Neil Ever Osborne)

For the first time, an Indigenous-focused chapter has been included in Canada’s national climate change and health assessment. Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate: Advancing our Knowledge for Action, released earlier this year, describes the effects of global climate change on First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities and the strategies in place to manage these effects.

The report chapter Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada predicts that Indigenous peoples will experience climate change in ways most Canadians won’t. In the North, where warming is three times the global average, severe disruptions are anticipated. A disproportionate burden of climate change will likely fall upon Indigenous peoples, whose reliance on seasonal roads and country foods contrasts mainstream Canadian life.

Indigenous communities are burdened by poverty, disease, poor infrastructure, a lack of access to clean drinking water, and compromised mental health. Inadequate clean drinking water alone is linked to eczema, skin cancer, infant mortality, birth defects, and elevated levels of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Climate change is making this bad situation worse.

There are just over 1.6 million Indigenous peoples in Canada, 4.9 per cent of the total population. It’s a young and fast-growing demographic. According to Statistics Canada data, the number of Indigenous people grew by 42.5 per cent between 2006 and 2016. It’s also an increasingly urban population, as Indigenous peoples move to cities for work, school, medical care, and other opportunities and necessities.

In the same period, 67 First Nations communities experienced nearly 100 flooding events and the wreckage that ensued: property and infrastructure damage, disruptions to community services, and health impacts. Kashechewan, a Cree community on the western coast of James Bay, has been evacuated a dozen times since 2004, at enormous financial, emotional, and psychological cost. Many used to go south to escape the floods, but increasingly the Cree have chosen to live out on the land, where they find peace and safety, rather than take up the risks of urban life.

Extreme weather events led to the evacuation of around 15,000 First Nations residents in a two-year period. Life on the land has its benefits, but climate change is introducing challenges, disrupting the distribution, health, and behaviours of wildlife, fish, fowl, berries, and other traditional foods on which Indigenous peoples rely. Everything from air quality, personal safety, livelihoods, mental well-being, and cultures and identity are at risk.

James "Jimmy" Haniliak was born in an igloo near Bathurst Inlet and works as a guide based in Cambridge Bay. Nunavut. Near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (Neil Ever Osborne)

James “Jimmy” Haniliak was born in an igloo near Bathurst Inlet and works as a guide based in Cambridge Bay. Nunavut. Near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (Neil Ever Osborne)

The report acknowledges the limitations of existing research on Indigenous peoples and climate change. Much of it examines Inuit in the Arctic and the harvesting of traditional country foods, with the remainder focused on Indigenous populations generally in rural and Northern Canada.

Less studied are the uses of grassroots knowledge and community-based initiatives to adapt to new climate realties. One such initiative is the Kanaka Bar First Nation Climate Change Strategy, developed by the Teqt’aqtn’mux of Lytton, British Columbia. Kanaka Bar’s community resilience plan lays out climate change adaptation strategies for water, food, housing, health, transportation and energy. “We’re facing a global existential crisis,” Chief Patrick Michell told The Weather Network. “We look at everything through a climate change lens.”

Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada also observes that “relevant, high-quality data are challenged by a lack of disaggregated and longitudinal First Nations, Inuit, and Métis-specific data.” Métis are especially under-represented in the research.

There’s a concerted effort underway, led by Indigenous peoples themselves, to mobilize First Nations, Inuit, and Métis knowledge and experiences in climate research, policy, and adaptation strategies. Research is increasingly going to be guided by OCAP principles (Indigenous ownership, control, access, and possession of data, data collection processes, and data usage) and conducted in a collaborative, rights-based approach that advances the wider project of decolonization.

Indigenous peoples are today leading a conversation on climate that asserts land and governance rights, the importance of traditional teachings, and the centrality of cultural values. The survival of Indigenous cultures will require more than reactively addressing the hazards of a changing climate. Indigenous peoples are calling for climate action that secures the full range of their inherent rights, as affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. ⌾

This article originally appeared Apr. 29, 2022 on The Weather Network.

Pope Francis’s apology needs to come with accountability from the Catholic church

When the Catholic entities that ran Indian residential schools commit to meaningful reparations, the need for yet further apologies will end

Pope Francis
✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | OCTOBER 30, 2021 • Current Events

THE CANADIAN CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS announced Wednesday the Pope’s acceptance of their invitation to visit Canada “on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation.” In December, a delegation of Indigenous survivors, elders, knowledge keepers and youth will travel to the Vatican to discuss the details.

The arrival to Canada of Pope Francis will fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #58:  “We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”

There have been a number of apologies from the Catholic entities that ran Indian residential schools in Canada. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate delivered theirs at Lac Ste. Anne in July of 1991, “for the part we played in … cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious imperialism,” and in 1997 the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement of regret for the pain and suffering caused by the residential school system. In 2000, the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II appealed for forgiveness in a summary confession of over 100 crimes, including the abuse of children in Catholic-run institutions. Along the way there have also been low-profile, local apologies, delivered by bishops and archbishops from the pulpit.

But there’s never been an apology from the Pope, delivered to Indigenous people, on Canadian soil. When the residential school lawsuits began in the 1990s, Canadian bishops adverted to the decentralized and even anarchic nature of the business: there is no “Canadian Catholic Church,” they asserted, and therefore no ecclesiastical leader or entity to litigate. Yet when the Indigenous delegation arrives at the Vatican this December, they will tread upon the soil of an exclusive and sovereign dominion, a landlocked theocracy presided over by the Vicar of Christ and placed beyond secular authority by the 1929 Lateran Treaty with Mussolini.

The former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, travelled to Rome for a 2009 private audience with Pope Benedict. At the time he considered the Pope’s expression of regret a significant and sufficient achievement, but now says his words were taken out of context and misconstrued. Now Fontaine thinks it’s a different time and an apology on Canadian soil, in an Indigenous community, is required.

Survivors of physical and sexual abuses suffered in the Indian residential schools have told me that apologies help. Apologies affirm in public what former students have long known in private — that they were vulnerable and defenceless children, abused by those in whose care they were entrusted. As crimes of the worst kind imaginable, these abuses cry out for acknowledgement, justice, and remedy. Apologies can have restorative power, when done properly.

And then there’s doing it badly. There have been apologies of various kinds for 30 years now. There has also been a court-supervised settlement with 48 Catholic entities, called the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. As I’ve written before, lawyers for the Catholic entities took advantage of loopholes in the agreement that they themselves negotiated, in order to minimize their legal and financial burdens. Their reparation scheme funnelled dollars and church efforts into existing business lines, underwriting church and membership building initiatives they would have undertaken anyway.

You may have noticed that there are no calls for further Anglican, Presbyterian or United church apologies. These denominations committed to truth, healing and reconciliation, while the Catholic leadership has thus far committed to the cardinal priorities of asset management and pew-filling. The church’s insistence on regarding a global crisis of child abuse and coverups as an internal pastoral matter, a call to restore those abused to their diminished flock, is not a serious acceptance of responsibility.

The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement failed to hold the Catholic entities to account because it was larded with the assumption that an honour system would suffice, and that the Catholic entities could be counted upon to do what is right. This trust was abused, by an institution that has earned a reputation precisely for the abuse of trust. So by all means an apology, but also accountability, not only to law but to the standards of ordinary human decency. When the Catholic entities commit to meaningful reparations and make genuine efforts that help to restore Indigenous land, cultures, languages, ceremonies and governance, the need for yet further apologies will end. ⌾

A Land Acknowledgement, But About a Stolen Bike

Before we get this meeting started, I’d like to acknowledge that we’re on land where I stole Chris’ bike. You see, this is the traditional land where he would cycle. Then I moved here and saw the bike, and I thought, that’s a nice bike and I think it would be fun to ride. Which it is, to be honest. So I’d like to thank Chris for being a steward of my bike. He kept it well tuned and clean as a whistle all the time before I came along and stole the bike from him.

It wasn’t easy, either. I used a bolt cutter and it took me over 20 minutes. In his wisdom Chris locked the bike up really well so that no one would take it before I came along. Back before I stole the bike, Chris would have a gathering with the other traditional people of this territory. Ryan, who works as a bartender in that tapas place on McCleod Avenue, Jim the graphic designer, and Phil, who last I heard was trying to open a barbershop. The hipster kind where they have pinup girls and indie bands on Saturdays, and somehow they play between the barber chairs. They would traditionally get together for bike rides, which they don’t now because Chris can’t afford a new bike, and certainly not one as nice as my bike, which I acknowledge I stole.

Also, his traditional name is Christopher and not Chris. I called him Chris for years because I just like it better than Christopher. One year I dressed up as Christopher for Halloween. I found a plaid shirt, just like his, at Value Village, and that stupid green jacket he always has on. I got the idea while I was riding my stolen bike. I figured, with the bike I was already half way to a costume. Christopher didn’t like it, even after I explained that I was honouring him. “Give me my fucking bike back,” he yelled. And I totally get it.

That’s why I want us to be friends again, like we were before I had sex with his girlfriend and then stole his bike. I’ve done a lot to atone for these things. I acknowledged that I had sex with his girlfriend in his bed and stole his bike from his yard. And, yeah, I took his Macbook, too, because I’m pretty sure he wasn’t using it and I wanted to burn some CDs.

I think we can all agree that there’s been enough animosity, enough rancor. It’s time for a new relationship, and being chill again like the old days, before I killed his brother in a bar fight. And then the girlfriend thing, the Macbook, the bike. It’s history now, and I feel bad about it. Sometimes when I’m riding my bike I even tear up a bit, but that might just be the wind in my eyes.

Maybe I should get some sun glasses. I noticed Chris has a nice pair.

The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement allowed the Catholic Church to escape justice

It failed residential school survivors, and it failed the many Catholics of goodwill who expected better of their spiritual leaders

Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | OCTOBER 6, 2021 • Current Events

WHEN THE INDIAN RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL lawsuits began in the 1990s, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops proclaimed that “the Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not associated with the Residential Schools” and that legal responsibility fell upon the individual dioceses and religious communities — the Jesuits, Oblates, Grey Nuns, Sisters of Providence, Daughters of Jesus, and so on.

This opening gambit would be succeeded by others, of an equally insincere and squalid nature, to minimize the liabilities of a church implicated in ongoing scandals of physical and sexual abuse. The CCCB well knew the communities and dioceses who’d managed residential schools had in many cases dissolved or relocated to distant jurisdictions, conveniently beyond the reach of Canadian courts.

At a time of mounting pressure, to say nothing of peril, the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) yielded an opportunity to make the headlines and headaches go away. The Catholic dioceses and religious congregations conjoined in the laboriously christened “Corporation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement (Agreement),” or CCEPIRSS, to negotiate with residential school survivors and the federal government. The largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history, the IRSSA also involved the Presbyterian, Anglican and United churches.

In 2006, I was a senior manager at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, a not-for-profit national funding agency established in 1998 with a $350M federal grant and mandated to fund community-based projects addressing the intergenerational legacy of Indian residential schools. Our organization had productive, frequent and warm collaborations with leaders of the United Church, the Presbyterians, and the Anglicans. But our relationship with the Catholics was challenging. That relationship began when, without informing us, their lawyers injected the AHF into the settlement agreement as their partner. We discovered this through our colleague David MacDonald, a special adviser to the United Church and a former cabinet minister in the Joe Clark government, who provided us with a draft of the negotiations.

Schedule O-3 of the IRSSA, the 75-page settlement on behalf of the 48 Catholic Entities, committed the Catholics to a seven-year, best-efforts $25-million Canada-wide fundraising campaign, $25 million of in-kind services, and $29 million in “healing and reconciliation commitments” to be administered by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. I was in the room in February 2007 when AHF senior management sat down with the Catholic Entities lawyer to work out the details of a collaboration that was forged in our absence. The Catholics wanted something big, something that would draw attention, and they wanted enough control to ensure a funding stream for their existing outreach work with Indigenous people. We listened, and we deliberated their proposals, but we told them that $29 million was too little for their ambitious plan. The best approach, in our view, was to direct the money into our network of existing projects.

Subsequent events would prove that Schedule O-3 of the agreement was too vague, as well as unenforceable. In the end, the Catholic lawyers accepted our recommendations. The settlement agreement did little more than bind us together. There was no direction, and no plan. With the exception of the Canada-wide fundraising campaign, which was a meant to elicit donations from parishioners, no timeframes or payment schedules were provided. There were no consequences for non-compliance or failure to meet targets. (Speaking of targets: four years into its mandate, the Canada-wide campaign was reporting a loss of over $1 million.) The Catholic Entities lawyers set themselves to reducing the amounts of the settlement, deducting millions in legal fees and administration costs and loans. The agreement allowed for this, too, but without defining a reasonable administration cost.

The fundraising campaign amassed under $4 million, well short of the $25-million goal. According to a document produced by federal lawyers, an accountant for the Catholic Entities reported the provision of $25 million worth of in-kind services, with “no basis on which to value these services” except minutes from meetings. Where did the money go? As Jason Warick reported on the CBC on Sunday, it went into “attempts to evangelize and convert Indigenous people,” just as I’d inferred was their agenda in the February 2007 meeting.

As for the healing and reconciliation commitments, the lawyers reduced the $29 million for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation to $18 million, with administrative deductions. Payments were slow to arrive. We sent letters to the government, and the government put pressure on the Catholic Entities. It was a nightmare for our accountants, who never knew when the money would arrive and in what amount. When $1.6 million remained of the $18 million, the lawyers claimed it for legal fees. That’s when the federal government intervened and took them to court.

In the end, a miscommunication between the federal and Catholic lawyers enabled the Catholic Entities to exchange $1.2 million for their release from obligations of the IRSSA. Lawyers for the federal government claimed that they had not agreed to a general release, but upon appeal the court ruled that “the balance of the record” proved otherwise. From the beginning to the end, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement did not deliver justice or reconciliation, so far as the Catholic Church was concerned. That the settlement did not deliver justice and reconciliation is evident in the ongoing calls for apologies, and from the recent pledge of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops of $30 million for healing and reconciliation. The IRSSA furthermore failed residential school survivors, and it failed the many Catholics of goodwill who expected better of their spiritual leaders. ⌾

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will help ensure Canadians never forget the past

Phil Fontaine in October 1990The worst thing that could happen would be for the Canadian public to forget this painful history


In October 1990, Canadians were shaken — much as they were by the recent discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools — when Phil Fontaine opened the nation’s eyes to the horrors that took place at those schools and the long-lasting trauma that resulted.

Yet Fontaine later told me that the events of that month happened by accident. He’d said during a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations that it was necessary for the organization “to deal with an issue that was like a plague in our communities … residential schools, and the abuse that went into those schools.”

On the way home, a Globe and Mail reporter who’d been at the meeting approached Fontaine at the airport. They had a brief conversation, and the next day Fontaine woke to discover his words were front-page news.

Fontaine would be interviewed about his experiences many more times. His interview with Barbara Frum, on Oct. 30, 1990, is perhaps the most notable. Many who were in an Indian residential school system have told me that Fontaine’s willingness to speak out on the issue gave them the courage to do the same.

No one was talking publicly about the Indian residential school system before then. Hardly anyone, beyond those who were there, knew anything about it. Between 1907 and 1940, there had been a handful of newspaper articles about the schools, with headlines like Canada Deserts Her Children and Schools Aid White Plague — Startling Death Rolls Revealed Among Indians — Absolute Inattention to the Bare Necessities of Health. Yet if Canadians were shocked at the time, they soon got over it, and quickly forgot.

In 1990, the stories returned, this time told by Indigenous people themselves. By the end of the decade, Canadians who wished to could find a good many books on the residential schools. In the early-to-mid 2000s, residential school lawsuits were commonplace news. Then came the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history. And after this, the prime minister apologized and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was set up.

While the current federal government has squandered much of the goodwill it amassed early in its mandate, with promises of a new and sunny relationship with Canada’s First Nations, not everything is bad. Canada, for example, is unlikely to return to the era of universal ignorance about residential schools.

Anyone who dismisses the substantial achievement this represents disrespects the residential school survivors who for years dedicated themselves to a campaign of public education. As a result of their efforts, there is a consensus now that the experiences of those who attended residential schools ought to be heard and respected, and that those who did not survive the schools should somehow be recognized.

There is, of course, more work to be done. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) provided direction with its 94 calls to action. Among them is call to action number 80, which urged the government to designate a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The selection of Sept. 30 reflects the fact that this was the time of year when children were transported to the schools, in many instances hundreds and even thousands of kilometres from their homes.

The TRC envisioned the day as a statutory holiday and a time for reflection — and while this will not be the case for most Canadians (most provinces have not designated it as a stat holiday), the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will evolve over time.

The worst thing that could happen would be for the Canadian public to forget this painful history. The formal designation of a day of observance and commemoration will serve the cause of remembrance, and that in itself is a good thing.

Some Indigenous Athletes Who Soared

Tom Longboat

Stories of Indigenous success can show the young what’s possible


Among the world’s elite competitors are men and women of humble origin. The barriers to sport are many, especially for Indigenous people.

Still, stories of Indigenous sporting success are more plentiful than Canadians likely realize. One of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action is to provide public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history.

Not much is certain about the childhood of one of the world’s most versatile athletes.

Jim Thorpe of the Sac and Fox Nation was born in 1887, or maybe 1888, somewhere east of Oklahoma City. Described by Dwight D. Eisenhower as a “supremely endowed” athlete, Thorpe played in the MLB and the NHL and excelled at running, jumping, swimming, skating, basketball and other sports as well.

He attended the Haskell Institute at Lawrence, Kansas and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, established by a Civil War veteran named Richard Henry Pratt.

Pratt ran his school along military lines with a view of assimilating Indigenous people. He’s responsible for the phrase “Kill the Indian in the child, and save the man.”

The Carlisle school was studied by Nicholas Flood Davin, whose 1879 report to Prime Minister John A. Macdonald recommended it as a model for Canada.

At Carlisle, Thorpe prepared for the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics. He dominated, winning gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon.

The Onondaga marathoner Tom Longboat had, like Thorpe, a reputation for excelling without ever practicing. Journalists called him a “lazy Indian.”

He escaped a residential school (the Mohawk Institute, in Brantford, Ontario) to pursue running. His remarkable career began in 1905, and he was an almost-instant celebrity.

A poem titled “Tom Longboat’s Victory” memorializes his infamous 1909 race against Alfred Shrubb: “For days and weeks, twas talked about—the whole world echoed it; / A thousand papers flashed the news.”

The Tom Longboat Awards, established in 1951 to honour outstanding Indigenous athletes, attests to his inspiration of numerous Indigenous athletes.

At the time Longboat turned professional, several Indigenous athletes were competing in the Olympics: marathoner Fred Simpson in 1908, and in 1912 track and fielder Andrew Sockalexis.

The Hopi distance runner Lewis Tewanima, a teammate of Jim Thorpe at Carlisle, competed in both 1908 and 1912, winning a silver medal at Stockholm.

Thorpe returned to Carlisle to train but Longboat would never set foot again in the “Mush Hole,” as former students called the Mohawk Institute. He considered the place unfit even for a dog.

Sports played a complex role in the Indian residential schools. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples says that “in school, in chapel, at work, and even at play the children were to learn the Canadian way. Recreation was re-creation. Games and activities would not be the ‘boisterous and unorganized games’ of ‘savage’ youth.”

The school inspector J. Ansdell Macrae noted in 1888 that “a noticeable feature of [the Battleford Industrial School] is its games. They are all thoroughly and distinctly “white.” … From all their recreations Indianism is excluded.”

Football, cricket, hockey and baseball were meant to teach children self-discipline and conformity to the rules, “thus contributing to the process of moving the children along the path to civilization.”

Sport was also a respite. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “many students stated that sports helped them make it through residential school.”

Andrew Amos was a provincial boxing champion. He was at the Kamloops school where the remains of 215 children were confirmed to lie in unmarked graves. He says that “it was through competitive sports … that we were able to cope and survive the daily routine of life at the residential school.”

The Oglala Lakota runner, Billy Mills, was orphaned at twelve. He chose to attend the Indian boarding school Haskell because his brother had gone there and he’d read good things about their sports programs. In 1964, Mills won an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meter run.

The brief hockey career of Fred Sasakamoose, of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, began at the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, where he was forcefully placed after being taken from his parents in 1940.

Sasakamoose told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that the school’s sports director, Father Georges Roussel, had a dream. “Freddie,” he said, “I’m going to work you hard, but if you work hard, you’re going to be successful.”

So it was. Sasakamoose was brought up from the juniors by the Chicago Blackhawks.

But years in a residential school had made him lonely and homesick. After only eleven games, his major league career ended. The Survivors Speak: A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada quotes Sasakamoose as saying, “I didn’t want to be an athlete, I didn’t want to be a hockey player, I didn’t want to be anything. All I wanted was my parents.”

Fred Sasakamoose would join the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, established in 1998 to address the legacy of residential school abuses. Sport and recreation would be an important component of the healing programs funded by the AHF.

Racism has a long history in sport, and particularly in the Olympics.

The shambolic 1904 games in St. Louis were a celebration of imperialism and racial superiority, featuring a sideshow of “primitive” contests called Anthropology Days that included lacrosse and spear throwing.

At the 1976 Montreal Olympics closing ceremony, 250 non-Indigenous dancers entered the stadium costumed in feathers, buckskin and redface.

They performed a faux Indian tribal dance, based on a traditional Provençal farandole, to a composition called La Danse sauvage. Then they marched into the five Olympic rings, each with a tepee in the middle, despite the fact that Montreal is on longhouse territory thousands of kilometres from the tepee-using nations.

In 2015 there was scandal when Dsquared2, the company contracted to design Team Canada’s Rio Olympic clothing, launched a line of women’s apparel called Dsquaw. Stereotypes that had shaped the Olympics over a hundred years ago were again on display.

For the first time in its history, the Olympics in 2010 included Indigenous people as official partners. The Squamish and Lil’Wat First Nations incorporated the Four Host First Nations Society (FHFN) with the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh, and members of all four nations became involved in planning.

Canada’s history of colonialism and forcible assimilation has produced other barriers to sport — hopelessness, addiction, broken families, impoverishment, and isolation.

The more fortunate have the support they need to train and compete at an elite level.

Three times a week Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (of the Ulkatcho First Nation) was driven by his father to Williams Lake, 320 kilometres from home. Eventually Jerry Price bought a Piper Cherokee aircraft to cut their ten-hour commute.

The Inuvialuit cross-country skier Jesse Cockney competed at the Sochi 2014 Olympics, and at the 2011 Canada Winter Games he won three gold medals and one bronze. His father Angus relocated the family to Canmore, Alberta so Jesse could have access to the Canmore Nordic Centre and its training programs.

Carey and Jesse are the children of professional athletes. In his younger days, Angus Cockney was a cross-country skier. Jerry Price was a goaltender, drafted in 1978 by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Jonathan Cheechoo moved to Timmins, 300 kilometres from his home in Moose Factory, to develop his hockey skills. It was difficult to be so far from family, but he had a great deal of support.

Not every young Indigenous person is so fortunate.

Rilee ManyBears, a runner from Siksika Nation, had to overcome the death of his father, depression, drug abuse and attempted suicide to achieve success in competition.

Alwyn Morris, a 1984 Olympic gold medal winner in the 1,000-metre sprint kayak doubles, left his home community of Kahnawake and moved to Burnaby, BC. He trained at the canoe club and cared for his ailing grandfather. Morris was a Tom Longboat Award winner and, like Longboat, an outstanding Indigenous athlete who inspired many other Indigenous athletes.

One of them was Waneek Horn-Miller, a fellow gold medal winner (at the 1999 Pan American Games) from Kahnawake. Horn-Miller was 14 when the violence of the Oka Crisis occurred, in the summer of 1990. During the chaos of an altercation, a soldier stabbed her near the heart with a bayonet, but she survived.

In some cases, seeming barriers like isolation and remoteness turn out to be advantages.

According to Jim Thorpe’s New York Times obituary, “his favorite diversion was following his hunting dogs in the forest, which helped to develop his magnificent body.”

Indigenous cultures with long traditions of living on the land promoted strength and endurance.

Gwich’in and Métis cross-country skiers Sharon and Shirley Firth saw their Olympic success and their experiences trapping and hunting around Inuvik as connected.

The Firth sisters also benefited from the Territorial Experimental Ski Training, or TEST, program. Developed by an Oblate priest, Father Jean Marie Mouchet, TEST promoted skiing across the North at a time when the Canadian military was colonizing the Arctic, upending Indigenous lives.

Where family and community support systems are absent or insufficient, sport programs must fill the gaps. But there’s some distance to go, as the Canadian Olympic Committee admits.

CEO, David Shoemaker, says the organization is focusing on promoting more Indigenous talent, both at the competitive and leadership levels.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called upon governments at all levels to ensure the development and growth of Indigenous athletes, continued support for the North American Indigenous Games, policies promoting physical activity, reduction of barriers to sports participation, and the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in programs and sporting activities — not only as competitors, but as planners.

Of the 676 Canada Sports Hall of Fame members, 12 are Indigenous. That’s under two percent, in a country where Indigenous people make up five percent of the population.

Stories of Indigenous success can inspire our youth and show them what is possible. Opportunities for athletic growth and development can help them reach the heights.

Three hundred athletes will represent Canada at this summer’s Olympics, but the COC doesn’t know how many are Indigenous. They don’t ask, but that’s something they are planning to change, and will need to change, if they are going to remove barriers.⌾

A Governor General Worthy of the Post

Mary Simon

Mary Simon will make an excellent governor general


Over the years my work has brought me into the orbit of Mary Simon, the next governor general. In a time of disturbance, where the relationship of Canada and Indigenous people is concerned, I recall Simon as a patient and calming presence. By now you’ve seen the highlights of her resume: broadcaster, diplomat, politician, ambassador, negotiator. All of these roles require the skill of working effectively with people of diverse natures, a skill she possesses in quantity.

A governor general should have an impressive career, and Simon’s has been very impressive indeed. There are things a resume will not tell you, however, and it’s these that make her an excellent choice. She is an exemplary listener and an astute observer. She possesses humility and, in contrast to a recent governor general, will not besmear her function with drama. Her empathy served her well as moderator of the RCAP hearings, where for the first time Inuit told stories of the residential schools. Mike DeGagné, the former Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, remembers her ability “to tap into what people were feeling” and her “wonderful way of allowing people to express themselves.” These are the qualities I expect her to bring to the job, and they are the right qualities for the times.

The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution, the Charlottetown Accords, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the creation of Nunavut, the Indian Residential School System — there is no major event or issue of the past fifty years, touching upon the affairs of Indigenous people, in which she’s not been involved; and yet I would dare to guess that many Canadians have not heard of her. The reason is that, in contrast to many public figures (including some Indigenous ones I could name) she is not driven by ego and therefore does not crave attention and accolades. Again, a delicious change.

On July 11, 2008 Simon responded to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools,” saying, “I am one of those people who have dreamed for this day … Let us now join forces with the common goal of working together, to ensure that this apology opens the door to a new chapter in our lives as aboriginal peoples and in our place in Canada.” Christi Belcourt’s stained glass window, installed in Parliament’s Centre Block and commemorating that day, reflects Simon’s phrase that “a new day has dawned, a new day heralded by a commitment to reconciliation and building a new relationship with Inuit, Métis and First Nations.”

These words will sound to many as excessively optimistic, but they are consistent with a career that has emphasized listening, cooperation, opportunity, and negotiation. In a 2011 article, Canadian Inuit: Where we have been and where we are going, Simon lists the many colonial assaults on the Inuit yet concludes that “we continue to hope that other Canadians seek and support creative solutions to our issues in ways that will benefit us and Canada as a whole.” She was likewise hopeful today, when she characterized her latest role as a historic and inspirational moment.

The new governor general will have her critics, but know that she is a serious and effective person. The past few years have highlighted the poor judgement of the Prime Minister where appointments are concerned, but in this instance and for a change he has made a good decision.⌾

Controversy over Canada Day is nothing new

75cbbe6eeabd0167825a8ee3a4973a8dThe Cariboo Indian Girls Pipe Band performed in Ottawa on July 1, 1965

As early as 1867 it had its champions and detractors


THE BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT came into effect on July 1, 1867, establishing the Dominion of Canada under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick confederated, as did Nova Scotia, but with such opposition in the latter province that voters elected eighteen of the nineteen parliamentary seats held by a secessionist Anti-Confederate party. The theme of a reluctant union reprised in 1949, when a bankrupt Newfoundland under a caretaker government narrowly chose Canada, by an affirmative vote of fifty-two percent. Fully half of the four founding provinces of Canada have challenged Confederation at one time or another. One of them has yet to formally approve the 1982 Constitution Act amending and patriating its 1867 predecessor.

Dominion Day celebration was first advocated by the first Governor General of Canada, Charles Monck, an Anglo-Irish member of the peerage who established the tradition of the Governor General residing at Rideau Hall. Monck’s proposal to create a public holiday was met with hostility, especially in Nova Scotia, where July 1 was for many an occasion for lament. Owing to opposition, a Dominion Day bill introduced in May 1869 by the Barrie businessman and Member of Parliament Thomas McConkey was debated but withdrawn after the second reading. Ten years after this, Senator Robert Carrall sponsored a successful effort to establish Dominion Day as a federal statutory holiday, a designation which occurred on May 15, 1879.

Despite the establishment of a federal statutory holiday, Ottawa played no role in the festivities for the first forty-eight years. Celebration of Dominion Day was a local, informal affair in which village and town committees provisioned space and resources for sporting competitions, theatrical and musical performances, rounds of Quoits, pyrotechnic displays, and Calithumpian processions. An 1888 annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs contains this T.P. Wadsworth description of a Dominion Day on the Mistawasis reserve, west of Prince Albert:

A most pleasing gathering took place on Dominion Day, the agent and instructor invited the settlers and Indians of the agency to attend a picnic a most enjoyable day was spent by all, the amusements being similar to those provided for true entertainments in the east, namely, athletic sports, dancing, singing, speeches, & c. Mr. Chaffie furnished from his private means a fine fat steer and the agent and a few of the settlers provided another, these were killed, dressed, and eaten on the ground; delicacies were also provided – they all had a very enjoyable time, and it had a very good effect upon the Indians who said that it was better than a “sun dance.” It also showed them that they could have plenty of amusement without the “tom-tom.”

Wadsworth’s keenness to induce Mistawasis Nêhiyawak to the amusements of the empire (to say nothing of the implausible, smoke-up-the-arse reaction that he records — better than a sun dance!) reflects the broader assimilationist bent of turn-of-the-century Dominion Day celebrations, as immigration from Eastern Europe and Asia changed the country. The holiday became an occasion for organization committees to, as Robert Cupido puts it, “get at the mind of the foreigner.” Poems, plays, and processions emphasized the British character of Canada and the virtues of assimilation, as for example in parades featuring immigrant parents in Old World dress followed by their Anglicized children. Eventually there were protests and push-backs. Matters came to a head as a result of the head tax and the introduction, on Dominion Day in 1923, of the Chinese Immigration Act. After this, July 1st was known among Chinese Canadians as Humiliation Day.

In 1917, the fiftieth anniversary of Confederation, Canada was at war and the holiday was a lower priority. Ottawa undertook celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee in 1927, marking the first federally-organized observance of Dominion Day. These celebrations featured cross-country historical pageants, one of which was performed at Massey Hall in Toronto with a cast of six hundred children. In his coast-to-coast radio coverage of the day, broadcast from Parliament, Graham Spry described the Dominion of Canada (a phrase that persisted into the 1960s) as “one nation, two cultures; one nationality, two races; one loyalty, two tongues.”

Efforts to rename Dominion Day would not succeed until 1982, and then only by the questionable means of a vote undertaken by twelve MPs, but in 1946 Philéas Côté introduced an unsuccessful bill to rename Dominion Day what it eventually became: Canada Day. Côté also resurrected an 1864 Charlottetown Conference proposal to name the country the Kingdom of Canada, an idea declined by the British Colonial Office, in deference to American sensibilities. “Dominion under the Crown” was effectively London’s compromise.

Federally-sponsored annual Dominion Day celebrations were formally established only in 1958, by a Conservative government concerned with the Liberal trend of eliminating the word Dominion from the government vocabulary. Secretary of State Ellen Fairclough was tasked by Prime Minister Diefenbaker with fashioning Dominion Day celebrations, but even at a date as late as this, there was opposition.

In an article titled “Fireworks, Folk-dancing, and Fostering a National Identity: The Politics of Canada Day,” Matthew Hayday writes that a government official named William Measures “did not consider Canada to be a retrospective country, but rather a forward-looking one that was confident in its future.” Measures also raised concerns over the symbolic elements, noting that both the flag and anthem were unresolved. He furthermore took the view that government ceremonies to celebrate a national day were contrary to Canadian and Commonwealth tradition and unusual in British countries. Some people, he added, regard them as “evidence of national immaturity.”

Yet as Canada matured, Dominion and later Canada Day were larded with more significance, likely for reasons specified by Measures as having to do with confidence in the future. During the 1960s and 70s, celebration of the British empire yielded to displays of multiculturalism and concerns of national identity and national unity. In 1968 Pierre Trudeau became leader of the Liberal party having promised to frustrate the Quebec separatist movement and to unify Canada as a bilingual nation. The celebration of Dominion Day that year was overshadowed by the June 24 St-Jean-Baptiste Day riot, where Quebec separatists threw bottles and rocks at the Prime Minister and shouted “Trudeau to the stake.” Federal interest in Dominion Day reached a low point in the mid-70s, and in 1976 budget cuts cancelled Ottawa’s celebrations altogether.

As 1992 approached, a group of eminent persons was invited by the Secretary of State to an October 1989 Ottawa conference where ways to celebrate Canada’s 125th birthday would be discussed. In a CBC Morningside program covering the event, host Peter Gzowski noted that “no speech made a stronger impact than one that wasn’t celebratory at all.” Here Gzowksi was referring to a spontaneous eight-minute jeremiad by the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Georges Erasmus, later titled Nothing to Celebrate, which conveyed the feelings of many Indigenous people.

There is nothing new under the sun — and certainly not disagreement over a holiday that already in the 1860s had its champions and detractors. Today another Trudeau finds himself amidst another controversy over a Canada Day he has said should be a time of reflection. Still, for the great mass of Canadians, Canada Day has always been a time for recreation and casual entertainment rather than politics or history. Does anyone really expect a grassroots uptake either of cancellations (unless due to Covid-19) or Erin O’Toole’s weird call for a rededication programme? What matters is what happens when life returns on the day after Canada Day, and forward. ⌾

Read this article at the National Post.

The Ryerson Method


Industrial Schools were about manual labour and indoctrination, fusing the holy and profane

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | June 8, 2021 • Current Events

THIS WEEK’S FELLING of an Egerton Ryerson statue at an eponymous Toronto university, and its repurposing as a memorial for the 215 children interred in a Kamloops Indian Residential School mass grave, is the latest reckoning of the Indian Residential School System.

Some have argued that condemnation of Ryerson as an architect of the Indian Residential School System is unfair and that his critics either misconstrue or overstate his role, or both. Ryerson however was an eminent protagonist both of the church and state who distinguished himself first as a missionary and later as a bureaucrat. In other words, he played roles, and synthesized them as well: religion, he wrote, is essential to the welfare and even the existence of civil government. The 1847 Report of Dr. Ryerson on Industrial Schools preceded the 1892 establishment of the Indian Residential School System by forty-five years, at which time Ryerson had been dead for a decade, but when it did arrive the schools looked much as Ryerson had envisioned.

The Story of My Life, Ryerson’s posthumous memoir, rehearses his 1826–7 missionary work among the Mississauga of the Credit Mission of Upper Canada, when the future Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada was twenty-three years old. Of this period, he writes that “my labours … were varied and severe.” A species of itinerant country preacher known as the circuit rider, he undertook work consisting of horseback travel on roads “bad beyond description” across a broad mission field that comprised current-day Toronto, Weston, and the Townships of Vaughan, King, West Gwillimbury, North Gwillimbury, East Gwillimbury, Whitchurch, Markham, Pickering, Scarborough, and York. The name given to him by a prominent member of the Mississauga refers to the missionary circuit: Cheehock, or bird on the wing.

His diary from the Credit Mission period attests that Ryerson was already entangled in sectarian disputes that would go on for another decade, foremost among them the Clergy Reserve controversy. As an ardent defender of Methodism, Ryerson clashed with John Strachan, the future Anglican Bishop of Toronto and a well-connected member of the Tory establishment, or Family Compact. Although the Indian Residential School System was established in 1892, there were of course residential schools long before this. The longest continuously-operated residential school was at Brantford, where construction of the Mohawk Institute began in 1828. In the pre-1892 period, before funding arrangements were formally systemized, the schools were a product of sectarian rivalry, supported by missionary societies and by government.

Ryerson was assisted in his missionary and educational work among the First Nations by the bilingual and bicultural Mississauga leader Peter Jones, a gifted orator and convert to Methodism who Ryerson had met in 1826 during his visit to the Credit Mission. Not everyone was impressed by Jones’ evangelical zeal for turning his fellow Mississauga into what some called Brown Europeans. The Credit Mission was to be a victim of the Methodist-Anglican rivalry. Both Strachan and Ryerson saw instantly the usefulness of Jones to their work of drawing the Indigenous people of Upper Canada into their respective flocks and hoped to enlist him, another contest in which Team Ryerson prevailed. Strachan had been an early champion of the community, but as Methodism spread among the Mississaugas, the Anglican-dominated establishment soured. Eventually the Mississauga were forced from their territory by the government, despite the assurances of Queen Victoria to the title deeds. They relocated to the New Credit reserve on lands given to them by the Six Nations of the Grand River.

Born into a loyalist Anglican family, Ryerson underwent a conversion which delivered him into Methodism. To many Anglicans of the nineteenth century, the Wesleyan Church was a cult of bumpkins and disloyal Yankee fanatics. As John Carrol reports in an 1869 history of Methodism in Canada, titled “Case and His Contemporaries,” Egerton’s three older brothers had also abandoned the stale religion of their father for a more enthusiastic brand of piety, meeting the “persecuting displeasure” of Ryerson Senior.

In the end the positions taken by Ryerson in the sacred and secular spheres prevailed. A combination of popular sentiment and the agitations of William Lyon Mackenzie blunted Strachan’s push for a unified church and state, with Anglicanism the established religion. The creation of a united Province of Canada and the establishment of Responsible Government further undermined the Family Compact. Ryerson climbed the bureaucratic ladder and in 1844 became Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada, from which perch he oversaw the creation of Ontario’s education system. The Indian Residential School System materialized most if not all of his 1847 recommendations, although it was Nicholas Flood Davin and his report of 1879 that had the attention and patronage of John A. Macdonald.

Ryerson’s report on Industrial Schools is exactly what one would expect of a former travelling preacher. Concerned ultimately with the general system of truth and morals taught in the Holy Scriptures, he writes that “the animating and controlling spirit of each industrial school establishment should … be a religious one” and that “the great object of industrial schools should be to fit the pupils for becoming working farmers and agricultural labourers, fortified of course by Christian principles, feelings, and habits.”

The Report of Dr. Ryerson on Industrial Schools proposed a curriculum of “reading and the principles of the English language, arithmetic, elementary geometry, or knowledge of forms, geography and the elements of general history, natural history and agricultural chemistry, writing, drawing and vocal music, book-keeping (especially in reference to farmers’ accounts) religion and morals.” Ambitious and elevated, you might think, but there are further recommendations. Ryerson proposed “8 to 12 hours a day of labour during the summer, and instruction from 2 to 4 hours” and that “during the winter the amount of labour should be lessened, and that of study increased” by some unspecified number.

The details of Ryerson’s 1847 plan suggest that Industrial Schools were to be about manual labour and indoctrination, yet another Ryerson fusion of concerns both holy and profane. Just consider his recommended daily routine: rise at 5 am for chores and prayers; breakfast at 7; labour from 8 until noon; dinner 12 to 1; labour from 1 to 6; supper at 6; lessons until 8; prayers; bed between 8 and 9; on Sundays, rising, prayers, meals, and bed at the same times. This turned out to be a representative schedule of an Indian residential school well into the twentieth century, as numerous people who were there have attested. For generations the schools turned out products for sale, manufactured by a pool of cheap and captive labour trained in the holy Christian principles, feelings, and habits of industry.⌾

Read this article at the National Post.

Time to Pay For The Missing Children and Unmarked Burials Mandate


Children Died and Disappeared Because the Government Was Cheap

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | June 2, 2021 • Current Events

THE Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announcement of a newly-confirmed burial ground is an instance of shock but not necessarily of surprise. For decades the existence of unmarked graves on and near former residential school properties had been known among the former students, and many of them told me so when I first began researching and writing about the residential school system in the 1990s. Only the scale and precise location of these sites were, and still are, a matter of uncertainty.

The need for an investigation was evident even before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established, on June 1, 2008. Volume Four of the TRC’s final report, “Missing Children and Unmarked Burials,” rehearses the background of the 2007 Missing Children and Unmarked Burials Mandate, a directive of Jim Prentice, at the time Minister responsible for Indian Affairs and the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada. Prentice instructed a working group to produce recommendations for research into the disappeared children of the residential schools, only for his successor to reject the recommendations when they came back with a request for funding in excess of $1.5 million.

As the TRC puts it, “the federal government’s denial of this request has placed significant limits on the Commission’s ability to fully implement the working group’s proposals, despite our sincere belief in their importance.” The substance of these proposals was four research projects into topics including student enrolment and illness numbers, disease and death rates, disappearances of children, and the location of cemeteries and gravesites in which students are believed to be buried. None of these studies was within the scope of the TRC’s existing budget, hence the request for additional funds to support an expanded mandate. A scaled-down version of this research was conducted and published as volume four of the TRC final report, and today this volume constitutes the first and perhaps only systematic effort to document these subjects, albeit within constraints partly related to resources but also to a lack of historical documentation.

Where might we be today had the Minister allocated funding to support his Missing Children and Unmarked Burials Mandate? No one can say as certain. But we can note an irony occurring across the history of Indian Affairs, the short-term cost-saving measure that in the long-run costs more dearly. Parsimony was the guiding principle of the residential school system on the day it was created, by an Order in Council of October 22, 1892 which established the government-church partnership as well as the per-capita funding formula. (The 1892 formula was a cut of funding levels Indian Affairs had been paying for industrial and boarding schools up until that date.) From then forward parsimony would keep coin in the accounts of the Crown at the expense of undernourished children and overcrowded buildings, the spread of disease, and other ugliness that is today the subject of class action lawsuits, multi-billion-dollar settlements, and several commission reports.

Over the years I’ve met and interviewed hundreds of survivors (as former Indian residential school students came to be called) in and from communities coast to coast to coast. Their stories have been recorded in books, plays, newspaper articles, and commission reports. But many children did not survive, and others who did survive were forever lost to their parents and families and communities. Some were institutionalized, others placed into adoption, and yet others drifted into towns and cities, never to restore the bonds that residential schools were designed to sever. The two hundred and fifteen children we have read about represent two hundred and fifteen families and many more siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. The scope of this pain is as large as Canada itself. We can never know the experiences of their short lives in their own words. All Canada, and the churches who ran the schools, can do now is support the work of communities like Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. ⌾

Read this article at the National Post.

Profits in a Time of Pandemic

Doug Ford

The Ford government’s corruption is the product of conflicts of interest that are almost too boring and commonplace to merit comment

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | May 7, 2021 • Current Events

Precisely when ontario’s long-term covid-19 commission issued its final report, the Premier restored Norm Sterling to a political stage the former Minister of Environment and Energy had vacated one decade ago. You’ll recall Mr. Sterling in his connection to the Walkerton Tragedy, where the combination of carelessness and a late-April-to-mid-May rainfall contaminated a township’s water supply and produced over two thousand illnesses and six deaths. The Walkerton Inquiry introduced themes of negligence and under-resourcing which also returned to the political stage this week, in the work of a COVID-19 Commission whose chief co-counsel, John Callaghan, was a participant in the Walkerton investigations. Welcome to Ontario health crises, where it’s déjà vu all over again.

Those who back in the day referred to the Mike Harris cabinet as Ministers Against — the Minister Against Education, the Minister Against Health, and so on — were not surprised to learn that the man chosen by Premier Ford to preside the Greenbelt Council was against the Greenbelt Act. Or, to put this in a more precise way, against the idea of a Greenbelt Act which designates lands as protected in cases where someone wishes them to be expeditiously undesignated as such. This business of the expeditious redesignation of lucrative lands brings us to controversies over the Premier’s recent and, in the words of David Crombie, “grossly expanded use” of Minister’s Zoning Orders, or MZOs, as well as to developments concerning development: chief among them the proposed 400-series highway running fifty-two kilometres northeast from the 401 at Halton to the 400 at Vaughan. The NDP Finance Critic, Catherine Fife, has accused the Premier of operating under cover of Covid for the benefit of party donors, a charge which arrives as the evidence mounts of the government’s cosiness with the real estate, construction, and property management industries.

The leap from long-term care to MZO may seem as long as the GTA West corridor, yet both have a connection to Vaughan. The RCMP confirmed an investigation this week of a pro-Ford astroturf and propaganda outfit calling itself Vaughan Working Families, registered in 2018 by Vaughan Health Campus of Care, whose Chair Michael De Gasperis is a director of TACC Developments, a CEO of Arista Homes, a PC donor and fundraiser, and a warm acquaintance of Stephen Lecce. Another LTC outfit connected to Vaughan Working Families, UniversalCare Canada Inc., has brought a thirty-five-million-dollar lawsuit upon itself as a result of Covid-19 deaths at the Villa Colombo Vaughan Di Poce Centre, named after the real estate developer John Di Poce. (It used to be harder to put your name on these buildings. The recent proliferation of hospital wings and health and patient care centres named after developers is another Ford gift to donors.) In fact, of the developers close to the government, Di Poce owns the most acres along the proposed 413.

Throughout the pandemic the Ford who ran for Premier as a plain-folks populist ignored the needs of frontline and essential workers, denying them paid sick leave and front-of-queue vaccinations and sensible policies with their interests uppermind. His cuts early in the administration made Ontario more vulnerable to crisis just as the Harris cuts had done decades earlier. The rules he put in place were too often murky and at odds with science. To all appearances, the Premier improvised as he went, showing no evidence of learning along the way. In the absence of political leadership, ordinary citizens turned to arrangements like Vaccine Hunters Canada to obtain their relief. Ford didn’t create the underlying conditions but he was slow to act when, as the Commission final report puts it, “the pandemic shone a spotlight on a reality that existed long before COVID-19.”

According to the findings, the province’s long-term care homes had been neglected and underfunded for decades by successive governments, suffered severe staffing shortages and lack of training, were easy targets for the uncontrolled LTC outbreaks that were “among the worst in the world,” and received little notice until “a parade of sickness and death” made it impossible to ignore the long-standing problems. In a May 3 QP Briefing interview, John Callaghan quoted from the notes of a Canadian Armed Forces member who witnessed the deaths of twenty-six LTC residents from lack of “water and a wipe down.” In the meanwhile LTC operators like Extendicare (now involved in a $200-million class-action lawsuit) issue dividends. Chartwell has praised its pandemic performance and awarded its executives bonuses that are larger than those of the year before, on top of salaries exceeding one million dollars. A spokesperson for the man who made all of this profiteering possible, by engineering the deregulation of Ontario’s long-term care industry, said that “Mr. Harris’ drive and passion to provide great services and quality care to our aging population was one of the reasons he was asked to join Chartwell as chair in 2003.” Harris is estimated to have profited from his eighteen-year association with Chartwell to an amount of $3.5 million. One man’s tragedy is another man’s comedy.

Now some have awoken to the fact that the road to hell is apparently paved with drive and passion. Canada’s Shareholder Association for Research and Education urges that Mr. Harris (who in any case is expected to step down next year) should not continue as Chair of Chartwell Retirement Residences, citing concerns about the safety of customers and employees, as well as “significant legal, regulatory, financial and reputational risks.” Now that sounds like the Mike Harris I remember. There have been calls for the resignation of Premier Ford as well, most notably by David Moscrop in the pages of the Washington Post.

Whatever the outcomes, there are lessons to be learned, the chief among them that Ontario does not learn lessons. So long as negligence and nature are provisioned enclaves in which to collude unimpeded — and in this province, they are provisioned as a matter of custom — we will have more Walkertons and more LTC disasters. The Ford government is not the first nor the last corrupt government to rule this province. Its apparent incompetence is the product of conflicts of interest that are almost too boring and commonplace to merit comment. Many have suffered this past year, but we have not been in this together — not those collecting the dividends and bonuses, nor those placing private profit above public interest, nor those who claim responsibility without consequences, nor those who use their years in political office to serve their masters and secure their future pelf. ⌾

The Next Four Years of Donald J. Trump

Whether he’s the President or not, we will be stuck with him

✎ WAYNE K. SPEAR | NOVEMBER 2, 2020 • Current Events

AMONG THE MORE foolhardy undertakings is the prediction of future events, especially now, when we are hours from an election and the speculations multiply on matters that would have been taken as granted only a few years ago. Will the President declare victory before all votes are counted? Will Republicans allow a thorough counting? Would Mr Trump accept a defeat? Will there be a peaceful transition of power, or is the country headed for chaos and violence?

Should this President remain in office, and by whatever means, what might we expect of the next four years? This is the concern of the present essay, and while I have meagre confidence in my ability to foretell, the past four years have provided decent material from which to conjure an outline. Some conclusions are plainly obvious—for example that the President will spend the next four years propagating lies and assaulting those who refuse to pay him tribute. No one doubts that wherever Donald Trump goes, chaos happens. What I aim to accomplish in the following paragraphs is a deliberation of outcomes that are less obvious but nonetheless plausible.

If re-elected, Trump will find himself surrounded by hills that need surmounting. Opposition to his government will be fervent and the Democrats will throw up every conceivable obstacle to his administration. Past experience tells us that the opposition to Trump is ineffective, but this will not discourage it. The second term will be more dramatic than the first. The thirteen current investigations into the President’s business affairs will yield shocking revelations and, if they are sufficiently lurid, efforts once again to remove him from office. These scenarios will be taken as granted by Mr. Trump, and he will set himself to the business of preventing them, replacing the bothersome officials that he can and pre-emptively neutralizing those he cannot. At some point the President’s rhetoric will have reached the pitch at which even his own supporters, driven mad by the constant spectre of dangerous radical leftists, will turn on him, unless he produces show trials and sentences.

The 2020 election will have taught the Republicans important lessons that they will begin to apply on day one of the next term, along the lines of how to maintain power as a beleaguered minority-rule party with a diminishing base of voters and a populous and dedicated opposition. The Trump administration’s approach to this election has been scattershot and improvised, especially their focus on mail-in ballots and what they consider to be voter fraud. It remains to be seen if this administration institutionalizes its thinking, by making systemic changes that reflect their pet theories. The general tenor of the administration will be of a heroic struggle against the organized forces of evil. Increasingly what Trump does will matter less to his supporters than what Trump is, the occupant of an office that would otherwise be occupied by The Enemy.

The transformation of a professional civil service into a political operative division will continue, as will the reconstitution of the federal justice system as a personal legal team whose chief purposes are to give teeth to the President’s grievances and to dispense absolution to loyalists. For years now Trump has endeavoured to reproduce the working conditions he knew as a businessman, surrounded by underlings who did what they were told, no matter how criminal or irrational the instruction may be. It will likely take another four years at least to purge the federal bureaucracy as well as the courts to the President’s satisfaction, and he will set himself eagerly to it. He will cast Presidential term limits as a Democrat conspiracy to steal offices from Republicans, and the Republicans will indulge this fiction as they have every other.

The war on media will go on, even though the battle has been won. At least as far back as Reagan, conservatives despised journalists and paid them no attention, except to denounce them as dangerous hateful traitors. Now journalists and journalism are held in low regard across the political spectrum. When the revolution arrives, those who write for the papers or who serve as talking heads will be front of the queue for the guillotine. The uselessness of the media is evidenced in the fact that four years of damning news, some of it remarkably detailed and well-researched, has not dampened the President’s approval rating. In any case, many media outlets are only steps from insolvency and are no less likely to be gone in four years than Trump is.

I have said little so far about policy. Trump is less a policy President than he is a dealer in sentiment and symbolism. He is more interested in inciting crowds over the notion of a border wall than he is in building that wall. He knows that anger over a fabrication is real anger. The appearance of something will do just as well as the reality of it. Television taught him that an educated person will take medical advice from someone who once played a doctor, and for this reason he invests heavily in perception. Whenever he is asked about a specific legislative proposal, such as the Republican health care plan, he adverts to feelings rather than proposals. He can not say for sure what the Trump health care plan might be, only that it will be wonderful and everyone will be happy.

This administration of course has not been without policies. Where they exist, they are not that different from conventional Republican policies: tax cuts, generous spending on the military, deregulation. President Trump stands apart when one considers immigration, trade, and America’s relationship with the rest of the world. But as I have suggested already, these are less intellectual policy differences than they are a sentimental distinction, for all share a common emotional denominator: the frightening menace of the outside world. Foreigners take advantage of the United States with crooked trade deals, drag American soldiers into their wars, and send criminals and rapists to hollow out the country from inside. This bleak view of human nature is applied to the country itself, which is understood above all else as a struggle between Patriots and Radical Anarchist Antifa Leftists. Completely absent from the Trump worldview is the notion that people with whom one disagrees can ever have honorable motives. Trump policies are reducible to self interest and to psychological dramas and their attendant emotions, especially fear and ressentiment over perpetually being victimized.

As he has for the past four years, the President will make the noises that his advisors tell him are pleasing to his political base, white evangelical Christians. For the most part his concessions to them will be unserious, such as his yearly claim to have brought back the phrase Merry Christmas, but in other cases like abortion real things will be at issue. In the back of every Republican’s mind will be the hazards of 2020, which no one will want to repeat, and the GOP will feel compelled to work out once and for all how they can go on governing with little more than the votes of old white men to sustain them. The answers thus far have been gerrymandering, voter suppression, and political messaging that trades in apocalypse. Another four years would provide opportunity to work on other arrangements, such as incentives to boost white fertility rates. As improbable and outrageous as this idea may sound, it is the most obvious long-term solution to the challenge now confronting Republicans—the dwindling of their base—and it’s unlikely they haven’t thought of it.

A good many people are finding their comfort in the imminent removal of Donald J. Trump from the White House, but even if this happens, we should expect the man who has so much dominated the news for the past four years to continue doing so over the next four. At bottom this President is a propagandist and an agitator and a show business celebrity, roles he could fulfil as easily outside Washington as inside it. He will need money to finance his considerable debts, and he will need attention to satisfy his bottomless appetite for validation, and combined these needs will push him in the direction of the spotlight and megaphone. He is also now the leader of a massive cultural movement that is only incidentally Republican or even conservative, a fact that will not be lost on him and that he will exploit in both financial and political ways. If and when the GOP-Trump alliance breaks down, his movement will follow him and not the Party of Lincoln, and for this reason a November 3 defeat will not mark the end of the Trump era and will in fact mark the beginning of a new phase of it.

When it comes to racism, the RCMP may be bad-apple friendly


It has the feel of a system and not, say, a series of accidents

WAYNE K. SPEAR | JUNE 16, 2020 • National Post

WHEN ALBERTA’S Indigenous Affairs Minister said it was tough to watch his friend Chief Adam being brutalized in a March 10 Fort McMurray video, we knew what he meant. But he might well have said more, and been nearer the point, if he’d known to use brutalize in an earlier and now-obsolete sense: the action or process of lowering oneself to the level of the brutes. We’ve abandoned that usage, to our loss, and with it the insight that to use, abuse or degrade a fellow human being is to make of oneself a beast. Used this way the term reminds us that (for examples) the institution of slavery diminishes and perverts the slaveholder, and that the subjugation of colonized peoples debases the colonizer.

The RCMP officer who charged into the frame of a dashboard camera, to beat Chief Allan Adam, behaved brutally. And while my leap from colonization to policing will be as narrow or as wide as your leanings allow, it’s objectively the case that the North-West Mounted Police was established to put down resistance to settlement and the opening of land for private ownership and profit, at the expense of Indigenous people. This history is well-known within First Nations and its legacy is keenly felt. The 1870s was a time of westward expansion by settlers, the Trans-Canada railroad, the numbered treaties, and the Métis Scrip system—a convergence that is no work of happenstance. The RCMP, as the North-West Mounted Police would later be known, played their part by invigilating Indigenous people and enforcing provisions of the Indian Act, so much so that the Mounted Police could fairly be described as an adjunct of Indian Affairs and a handmaid of dispossession.

It all has the feel of a system and not, say, a series of accidents, with the focus upon people considered by officialdom as a race. (More specific, “a weird and waning race,” as Duncan Campbell Scott, former Deputy Superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs, wrote in a poem titled The Onondaga Madonna.) But apparently it’s a matter of scandal and of controversy to fadge the terms system and race, in a country that to this day administers Indians through an Indian Act underpinned by a bureaucratic schema of blood quantum. The flaw of a bad apples theory of policing has been exposed by the ever-increasing scrutiny into a system that attracts, recruits, and retains some number of goons and that thereby produces a steady stream of headlines concerning the deaths of Indigenous and black people in the custody of police.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has affirmed that the problems within the RCMP are bigger than “a single individual or the actions of one person.“ We had fresh evidence of this when the RCMP initially refused to release the video, said the officers’ actions were reasonable, and denied the need for an investigation. Only outside involvement and evidence of public displeasure seem to have brought the RCMP bosses round to the idea that an expired license plate sticker might not be an occasion for beatings.

We’ve had the bad apples because we’ve had a system that is bad-apple friendly. The problem is bigger than individuals, but the individuals who are big problems debase the entire system. One might even say that they brutalize it. ⌾

Standing In for the Wet’suwet’en People

This article previously appeared in the February 25, 2020 edition of the National Post.

We have data for almost everything, but we lack information about what the Wet’suwet’en think and why they think it

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | JANUARY 26, 2020 • Current Events

WHEN DID YOU LEARN TO SPELL “Wet’suwet’en”? If you’re like many Canadians, you hadn’t yet heard of this First Nation, in British Columbia’s central interior, when the latest cable bill arrived. Now, everyone has a view. If opinions could be shipped to market, millions of barrels of them would be headed to Kitimat, B.C., for export.

I know the politicians’ positions, and I know where Extinction Rebellion and the Toronto anarchists stand. The only opinions I’ve had trouble sourcing are those of the Wet’suwet’en, whose interests every side of the aisle claims to be supporting. Did voting occur, and what were the results? I’ve read reports on consultations, but nowhere have I found voting data. The closer you get to the ground, the muddier things become. Amber Bracken, in her article, The Wet’suwet’en Are More United Than Pipeline Backers Want You To Think, mentions a survey that found 83 per cent of the Witset First Nation’s members were against the pipeline. The company that undertook this survey, she adds, doesn’t seem to exist anymore, and if there was ever a document, it appears to be unpublished. Whatever the views of the people, the Witset band council eventually voted to support the pipeline. Further east, 70 per cent of the Nak’azdli — another branch of the Dakelh tree — rejected an agreement with Coastal GasLink in a 2015 referendum that the chief overturned three years later, and the First Nation became the last nation to sign on. Less than 15 per cent of Nak’azdli’s 2,000 members voted.

Accurate, relevant data are critical — that’s why governments collect them. Every day, data firms solicit opinion on a range of matters. How popular are Canada’s political leaders? What do Canadians think about their health-care system? Do they trust the media, and how much? How do they feel about immigration, affordable housing, climate change? According to the Environics Institute, 49 per cent of Canadians say they’re better off than their parents were at their age. (Thirty years ago, that number was 60.) Seventy-one per cent of respondents answered “No” to the question, “In your opinion, is Alberta treated with the respect it deserves in Canada or not?” These aren’t just numbers, they are the raw materials for future political campaigns, government initiatives and public policy.

We have data for almost everything, but we lack information about what the Wet’suwet’en think and why they think it. As Robert Jago has written, “we don’t know how many chiefs are opposed to the pipeline, we don’t know for certain what percentage of people in the Wet’suwet’en country support or oppose the pipeline and we don’t know if the pipeline was approved by a referendum, a town hall or a simple vote in council. With that information gap, people grasp onto whatever numbers are presented to them.”

Some of the examples are trivial but make the point. A report coming out of a Feb. 19 public meeting, at a Houston, B.C., movie theatre, asserts that “about 200 people gave up three hours of their afternoon” to express community support for a pipeline. That’s a decent turnout in a town of 3,500, which is precisely the point that the author of the article wants you to absorb. I mean, imagine if only one-quarter of that number had turned out. Well, you don’t have to imagine, because there’s an article for that outcome, too, stating that “around 50 people were in attendance.” That’s not a small discrepancy. It’s a difference of magnitudes, like winning a majority government versus deciding you’d like to spend more time with your family.

Lyndsey Gilpin’s Feb. 21 article for the Columbia Journalism Review, A Pipeline Runs Through Southern News Deserts, concerns a 965-kilometre natural gas pipeline along the eastern coast of the United States that has much in common with the Coastal GasLink project. Both face opposition and are currently stalled, and both run through what Gilpin calls “news deserts” — areas where outside media “parachute in to cover major updates or catastrophes,” but otherwise ignore. The burden of reporting on these projects is left to local citizen-journalists and under-resourced independent media, and in the absence of consistent national reporting, the likelihood of misinformation and confusion increases. The people who live in news deserts are typically poor and, Gilpin writes, “stand to lose the most … from a lack of information.”

As if this lack of reliable information isn’t bad enough, some non-Indigenous pipeline opponents will tell you that the numbers don’t matter, because democracy is a Western colonial construct and what matters is the hereditary chiefs, not the views of the people. Nonsense. Band councils and traditional leadership have differing mandates and represent contrasting governance systems, but hereditary leaders are not monarchs, just as guesstimates aren’t facts. The concerns and aspirations of ordinary people matter. And we need to know what they are. ⌾