Tag Archives: Indigenous

An honest telling of Canada’s story will make Canadians uncomfortable

Still, the truths of history are better than lies

✎  Wayne K. Spear | November 9, 2017 • Current Events

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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.”

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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.

Is it Even Possible for the MMIWG National Inquiry To Do Better?

The problem may well be the inquiry process itself

✎  Wayne K. Spear | November 2, 2017 • Indigenous Affairs

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HE NOVEMBER 1 interim report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) is the first bit of positive news from an organization known for headlines like these:

– National inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls postpones first family fall hearing
– Trudeau sidesteps calls to reboot MMIW inquiry amid calls for resignations
– Manitoba families push for Indigenous-led MMIW inquiry, want commissioners to resign
– Government policies making it difficult for MMIW inquiry to do its work on time: chief commissioner
– Family members say Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry a failure; call for ‘hard reset’

There are only a few plausible reasons that an agency will tumble into the category “problem plagued,” as the National Inquiry clearly has. One is suggested by a headline, above: government policies. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was a mess in the beginning, because it was a micromanaged sub-department of the federal bureaucracy, subject to the government’s byzantine rules and lacking executive authority. Early on the TRC headlines had to do with things like the delays faced by the Commission while waiting for ministerial authorization to order furniture and paint offices. The work stalled and morale took a dive and everyone wondered if the TRC would be able to restore the lost trust and confidence, just as they wonder today about the wayward inquiry into murdered and missing women and girls.

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TRC Commissioners came and went—again, just as they have at the National Inquiry. I interviewed a number of people who told me the TRC departures were a result of political interference from the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. I was told that political agendas had contaminated the organization and made cooperation among the three commissioners impossible. Internal politics and political rivalry is a second plausible cause of dysfunction.

The third is personality conflict, and doubtless there’s some of this going on at the National Inquiry, as there was at the TRC and in every organization I’ve ever seen that was staffed by members of homo sapiens.

A moment ago I said that the interim report was the first bit of positive news from the National Inquiry, but that’s not entirely the case. The report has already been trashed by those who don’t see it as positive at all. Pam Palmater wrote on Twitter that “if u subtract references notes graphics definitions & recycled #MMIWG NI promo, then all that remains is a mini-literature review. #disgrace.” I wouldn’t say her assessment is wrong, but only that her expectations are high. Just as the expectations of the TRC were high. And not only high, but misguided.

At the onset of the TRC’s work, I had conversations with Indian residential school survivors who made no secret of their pleasure that justice was about to be served. I had read the Commission’s Terms of Reference and didn’t have the heart to tell them that there’d be no such thing. The lawyers who created the TRC are the lawyers fighting the Human Rights Tribunal ruling that orders Canada to bring on-reserve child and family services spending to parity with its non-native equivalent. They are the lawyers who have absorbed $110,000 in legal fees fighting a $6,000 dental procedure required by an Indigenous girl. The government’s lawyers are risk-averse and tenacious and not at all in the business of exposing their client to the messy inconveniences of justice.

The National Inquiry’s interim report is a literature review, as Pam Palmater says, because the Terms of Reference say so:

an interim report, to be submitted before November 1, 2017, setting out the Commissioners’ preliminary findings and recommendations, and their views on and assessment of any previous examination, investigation and report that they consider relevant to the Inquiry.

There’s even a helpful list of reports for review, such as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Invisible Women: A Call to Action, What Their Stories Tell Us: Research findings from the Sisters In Spirit initiative, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in British Columbia. The TRC, like the National Inquiry, is mandated to “sit at the times and in the places, especially in Indigenous communities in Canada, that the Commissioners consider appropriate” for the “gathering of statements by qualified trauma-informed persons.” It is not mandated to go after the police or to point a finger at the corrupt or inept. The MMIWG National Inquiry is furthermore mandated to submit its findings, on or before November 1, 2018 (“without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization”) and a list of non-binding recommendations.

So far the MMIWG National Inquiry has been a disappointment, but I wonder how much it is within the power of this organization to do better. To what extent is the National Inquiry hindered by Canada? Over the years the federal government has mastered the art of politically expedient, toothless commissions which provide ministerial speaking points and aspirational calls to action that may be ignored or co-opted. The independent or arms-length inquiry, with powers of subpoena, has given way to therapeutic talking circles micromanaged by the Privy Council Office. Recent experience suggests that the inquiry process is broken, and it’s at this dysfunctional process itself we should be directing our ire.

Podcast 84: “CBC Indigenous” Journalist Jorge Barrera

Podcast Season 5