Still, the truths of history are better than lies
✎ Wayne K. Spear | November 9, 2017 • Current Events
EFORE BRONWYN EYRE was Saskatchewan’s Education Minister, she was an opinion columnist battling godlessness, political correctness, the myth of global warming, and other menaces. Her broadcasts were hosted at CKOM and CJME, and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix featured her columns, as did lesser-known publications like the Saskatchewan Pro-Life Association’s “Saskatchewan Choose Life News.”
Why do I mention this? To establish that Bronwyn Eyre is an experienced writer of opinion columns and, as such, a person able to put thoughts into words. And yet when she was asked recently to clarify comments she made in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, Bronwyn Eyre produced gobbledegook. Her initial comment however was plain enough and had the courage-of-conviction candour that you’ll find in her articles: “I would submit that there has come to be at once too much wholesale infusion into the curriculum, and at the same time, too many attempts to mandate material into it both from the inside and by outside groups.” Later on in her comments, made during the Throne Speech Debate of November 1, 2017, she says exactly what she means by wholesale infusion:
My grade 8 son brought a homework sheet home the other day — they’re always sheets — in which he was asked to outline nothing less than his vision of his collective past, his country, and his world. As background, however, he’d copied from the board the following facts which were presented as fact: that European and European settlers were colonialists, pillagers of the land who knew only buying and selling and didn’t respect mother earth. He asked me if it was okay if he could write that he associated with his pioneer great- and great-great-grandparents because no one was writing down their vision of the world. And I said yes, of course, and that after all, they had known poverty in Norway or Ukraine, or war in Germany, that they had come here and tilled the land that produced food for everybody and loved their families and tried to create whole, stable communities in this province, and had loved it here.
And here is the non-clarifying clarification Eyre offered a reporter:
What I was trying to highlight is that it’s maybe something that we all feel on some level that I think we can acknowledge that, you know, we’re perhaps free to love the story and our families and for him too to love the story without excluding loving anybody else. That’s really all I’m saying.
Anyone who has read Eyre’s works, as I have, will doubt “all she is saying” is that we should be free to love our stories and our families. She disapproves of the drift of current changes to the curriculum, just as she disapproves of the drift of politically correct modern society, and if she weren’t a politician she would have found the cahones to say so. But if her point were only about love, I would agree with her. It’s a good message: love your family and your ancestors and your country. We all need this love. And this love is what Indigenous people were denied for generations, by residential schools and the Sixties Scoop and the story of Canada.
I grew up in Canada in the 60s and 70s. I went to a public school and the history I was taught was definitely infused. Infused with lies. The textbooks had nothing to say of the inner life or aspirations of my Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) ancestors, who suffered losses of every kind so that settlers could start a new life. It would have been nice to hear stories that made me love who and what I was, and where I was from, but there was no love, and no compassion, for Indians in the curriculum. My teachers told me stories about Indigenous people that justified the casual daily racism every Indigenous child experienced in the playground and in the town. The story of Canada wasn’t a story you could love as an Indigenous person, because it made you feel stupid and ashamed and worthless. Our schools didn’t give us a vision of the future, they told us we Indians belonged to the distant past. It’s no wonder so many gave up on life and took the leap into an early oblivion.
An honest telling of Canada’s story will make Canadians uncomfortable, but in the long-run Canada will be better for it. The truth is often unpleasant, but it’s morally and practically more defenisible to live a life informed by what’s true and real than it is to live under the sway of comforting half-truths and lies. In 2002 I wrote a speech for the launch of a residential school exhibit, at the National Archives of Canada, that began:
The National Archives of Canada is a solemn place, dedicated to the service of the nation’s identity. It gathers what has been as an endowment to what will be. Because no legacy is enriched by counterfeit, a nation is ill-served by history which is not genuine. And so, we are here today to consider a national institution committed, not to the preservation of a people, but to their forced assimilation.
“Because no legacy is enriched by counterfeit, a nation is ill-served by history which is not genuine”—I wrote these words 15 years ago and they guide me still. I care about truth, and I care about authenticity, and I consider it a tragedy to live without either. I’d like to think Canadians of honour feel the same. I used the metaphor of an inheritance of fake money because that is what I believe Canadians have received from their educators, for generations—a counterfeit. I know it’s what I received, and as a result I’ve been a skeptical person my entire adult life.
Ms Eyre, you can love your family and your ancestors and your accomplishments without sacrificing intellectual and moral honesty. In fact, you have to. Otherwise it’s not really love.