Tag Archives: Twitter

Podcast 95: “Indigenous, Canadian, Indigenous-Canadian, or….” How do you identify?


Podcast Season 5

Thank-you to my guests this week: Chelsea Vowel, Brooke Torgerson, Carey Newman, Conrad Saulis, Doug Jarvis, Karen Lawford, and Nahnda Garlow

The Debate About Indian Residential Schools Misses the Point

It’s never been about good and bad experiences. It’s always been about Canada’s Indian Problem.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 25, 2018 • Current Events

TRC
A page from the TRC report, “The Survivors Speak.”

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ENATOR LYNN BEYAK laments that the histories of Indian residential school focus on the negative, and she has a point. A story about the abuse of a child does tend to capture one’s attention. So far as I’m aware, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission never once intervened mid-testimony to change the subject. “Yes, yes, we get it. But tell us about the knitting and the maths—you know, the good stuff.”

The topic of whether or not good things happened in the Indian residential schools, and whether they are sufficiently documented, is a mischaracterization of the debate we are now seeing. But while I’m on the subject, let me state once again that good things happened in the residential schools. Most scholarly sources describe them, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose reports include warm tributes to beloved teachers. (Every time residential school apologists claim that the TRC tells only the negative stories, they reveal their ignorance.) My own book, Residential Schools: With the Words and Images of Survivors, has entire chapters on movie and dance night, laughter, friendship, hijinks, and so on. My co-author, Larry Loyie, fondly recalled the teacher who encouraged him to write, and he had some fond and funny stories about his residential school days. He was however a writer of books, not of payroll ledgers, and never indulged the question of whether the arithmetic of good and bad arrived at a sum which could please critics like Beyak. We presented the whole truth, as best we could.

Indian and Eskimo Schools

Well, you can’t please everyone, but it’s useful to understand the character of a disagreement.The Indian residential school debate is and has always been about the right of one ethnic or cultural group to dominate and absorb another, and by doing so to appropriate and benefit from land and resources. The children, put into residential schools, often hundreds or even thousands of miles from home, could have learned English and grammar and grown up knowing the love of their mothers and fathers and grandparents. They could have got hockey lessons and a normal childhood. But the whole point of the Indian Residential School System as a system was to sever the bonds of family, so Indians could be turned into Christian Canadians free of the influence of their kin. Did Canada have the moral right, and moral obligation even, to do this? Does it have it now? Welcome to the real debate, ladies and gentleman.

The Let’s Focus On The Positive history of Indian residential schools was written, many times over, by women’s church auxiliaries, missionary societies, school administrators, Indian Agents, and government bureaucrats. Indian Affairs wrote it every year, in their annual reports. The folks who ran and oversaw the schools knew much, much more about them than today’s armchair apologists. When they declared the system a wise and benevolent success, math had nothing to do with it. Duncan Campbell Scott was aware that children were dying unnecessarily in the schools, of diseases caused by overcrowding and insufficient nutrition. The math, in this case, was not on his side. “But this alone,” he wrote to an Indian Agent, in 1910, “does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.” These folks knew what the debate was really about, and they made no effort to hide it. They were after a final solution of the Indian Problem, and no amount of bad news was going to make a difference.

I didn’t write this article to change anyone’s mind, because I’m not delusional. I wrote it to clarify. It was my day job for well over a decade to educate the public about the Indian Residential School System, and when I started, in the 1990s, most Canadians hadn’t even heard of it. Today there’s a consensus that the Indian Residential School System was not good, but a chunk of Canadian society can be depended upon to never take up that view. There are at present some thousands and maybe even millions of Duncan Campbell Scotts, looking forward to a day when there are no Indians in Canada and, as a consequence of this, no Indian Problem. There are also folks pained by the lost prestige of Mother Church, or by blemishes on the noble project of Empire. There are professional contrarians, skeptical of every affront to the status quo, a bag of human sand stubbornly anchoring the Old Order. I can’t explain the motives of every person who insists the residential schools were good, but I can ask them if they think Canada was right to attempt a wholesale assimilation of Indigenous people, and if they think Canada should stay on that course.

Social Media, Conversation, and Connection

People can smell bad and have unpleasant loud voices but we can’t do without them

✎  Wayne K. Spear | October 26, 2017 ◈ Essays

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HE ODDS ARE you’re not old enough to remember what it was like to be bored and lonely before the days of Facebook, so let me set the scene. In those days I watched Friends and reruns of The Rockford Files on cable television and I drank and I smoked cigarettes in my living room, or I walked the streets of my city for hours in search of diversions. One night, in my 20s, I drove to a singles party on the edge of town, circled the building twice, and went home, unable to summon the nerve to go inside. I was in a PhD program at the time and I spent my days in libraries or in front of a computer that was not connected to the world of distractions that we call the Internet. It was a good life when it was good, and when it wasn’t good it was an empty howling wilderness that I filled with words that no one else would ever read.

Many of us were already experts on isolation when Robert Putnam wrote his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. A book like that wouldn’t have been written or read otherwise. In my 30s I had a family, well after my contemporaries had done the same, and I became fully absorbed in my work and responsibilities. But your world can shrink as a parent, especially if your extended family is far away. My partner and I didn’t go out for a movie or a restaurant meal for years, and even if we had tried to arrange a social outing it would have been an ordeal. To this day a drink in the neighbourhood with a friend can require weeks of negotiation. A get-together with someone from another city (and most of my friends live in another city) requires months, and often there are cancellations and deferments. The reality of post-college life for most of us is that we’ll rarely meet face-to-face with the few friends we have. The reality is that you’ll spend a good deal of time alone. Maybe that’s why Friends was such a big hit. We all want that life, and few of us have it.

I almost didn’t write this essay because I decided instead to spend my scheduled writing time at a Meetup for writers in my neighbourhood. Five minutes was all I could stomach. I sat at the table with a dozen strangers and one of them immediately took control of the group, setting down what she believed should be the terms and conditions of the meeting. I felt as if I was at an inaugural Bolshevik congress, when all I wanted was an intelligent conversation. We should have a closed Facebook group, the woman said. We should submit our writing for critique as an attachment and not in a post, she said. And on and on, we should do this and that and not these and those. I’m allergic to the word should, so I went outside, lit a cigar, walked home, and wrote this.

People have smells and loud irritating voices and ways of laughing that get under your skin like a nasty insect bite. But people can’t quite do entirely without people. When I was young I dreamed of writing for the magazines and newspapers. I fantasized about the smart dinner parties and the witty conversations that would be the collateral of my life of letters. My many writer friends would be creative and interesting and bold, and my nights would be filled with the feast of reason and the flow of soul. A bohemian life. The reality is another thing entirely, as everyone soon enough knows. The labour of writing is tedious and isolating, and for most of us it doesn’t lead to glamorous diners or even friendships. Instead, there are inboxes with messages like this:

Your a horrible writer, you dont even know what your talking about. Give your head a shake. This is the stupidest thing I have ever read. You should go back to working as a carnival barker.

Life is the same for people of all professions. Few of us bowl or join clubs or social organizations anymore, if we ever did. Less of us go to church or spend our weekends at the Legion than our parents’ generation did. We don’t drive to the singles’ dance, we look for love on Tindr. We have Meetups and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. We go to the Internet for conversation and camaraderie and connection. There, we smell the virtual smells of other people, and it isn’t always pleasant or pretty. But it’s human, and we’re lying to ourselves if we think we can do without human connection.